How To Secure Your WiFi Network

Though routers come with their own security features, it is not impossible to hack into others’ routers. Once someone gains access to someone else’s wireless router, he or she can not only use their bandwidth but also gain access to the computers in the network, especially if it is a home network. Worst of all, they can use your WiFi for illegal purposes. There are some simple steps to secure your WiFi. We will also talk about a tool that lets you check who all are connected to your WiFi connection.

How to Secure your WiFi
The first thing someone encounters when he or she tries to log into your router is the router ID and password. You have to set it to something good. A random string would be good. Hard passwords are easy to create but tough to remember. You can use a password manager to generate a passcode for you, or you can create one on your own. If you are using a password manager, it would automatically fill in the credentials you need to enter the router page. The following explains how to change your router ID and password.

Change Password of Your Router
To log into your router, you need your router’s configuration pages. You have to type its IP address into a browser. The IP of the router is in most cases. If you cannot get into the router page using that IP, open command prompt window and type ipconfig /all. Note down the IP address of the Gateway. Try typing in that address into the address bar of your browser. If that too does not work, call up your router’s customer care after checking your router manual to see if the address is mentioned there.

To change the password and ID of your router, you have to log in to your router. The default ID is admin on routers of many companies. The default password is blank. If it is not blank, it could be 1234 or 0000 as in the case of cellphones. It might also be password. Try using these passwords, including the blank one before calling up the router company’s customer care. You can also look into the router manual to see if the passcodes and ID are mentioned there.

WPA2 protocol
What kind of security do you have on your network at home? Look at your Wi-Fi settings. It could be unsecured or secured with WEP, WPA or WPA2. WPA is better than WEP, but WPA2 is best. Change your network security settings to WPA2.

Other Steps To Safeguard Your WiFi
Another password is required to connect to your router’s wireless connection. This is found under the Wireless (or relevant tab) of your router’s page in the browser. Make it strict too: non-guessable, a little long and include special characters. This is the password you enter after selecting a network under List of available wireless networks. Some people make it very easy to crack these passwords. I remember one neighbor having his name as SSID and his profession as his password. Don’t ever do that. Create a tough password and store it on something like your phone or Google Keep, etc.

While you are still on the router’s page in your browser, check its encryption type. If not already, select WPA2. Some other options show a combination of encryption methods. If WPA2 is not available separately, select WPA2-PSK. Save the configuration and log into your wireless connection to see if it is working. If not, downgrade the encryption type to WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK. That should solve the problem. Do not go for WEP as it is not very protective.

Who Is On My WiFi
Though you can check it through Computer window, we recommend using a free tool that not only tells you how many computers are connected but also gives you the power to block unknown computers. Download freeware Who is on My WiFi from here and install it. This tool, like Wireless Network Watcher and Zamzom Wireless Network Tool, will show you who all are using your WiFi. The free version of Who Is On My WiFi is enough to know what all computers are connected to your WiFi and to block unknown computers.

The first time you run “Who is on My WiFi”, it scans the network for all the computers connected and provides you with many details including their last IP address and MAC IDs. This is important as you can verify if all computers are yours – using the MAC ID of each machine.

NOTE: The Scan Now button is in the main window of the software while the startup wizard simply says top right corner. Do not get confused; check the top right corner of the program window.

Tips to Fix Public and Home Wi-Fi Network Vulnerabilities

Most of us have almost discarded network cables and rely on wireless for connecting to other computers as well as to the Internet. The wired Internet is more secure as it reduces the chances of hackers snooping in. But wireless travels in all directions (even if you use unidirectional antennas, they branch out after a certain length). Cybercriminals can easily hack into these signals and know what you are doing. They steal your data and use it for own purposes. We have talked about problems of public WiFi as well as dangers of using wireless Internet in the past. This post once again reminds you that you need to take certain steps on both home and public networks to stay secure when using WiFi.

Vulnerabilities in Public Wi-Fi
Most of the public places now offer free WiFi as part of providing you with better experience. Even the railway is now giving public WiFi for free when you are on long distance trains, not to mentions airports, hotel lounges, cafes and more. We had earlier posted about dangers of public WiFi. Let’s be more specific here about vulnerabilities of Public WiFi.

First of all, it is very easier to get your login credentials when on a public WiFi. There are devices available that can tell the IP addresses of computers in the range using the same public WiFi and from there, cybercriminals can carry out their operations to know what are the different users of the WiFi doing.

Not all the public WiFi use encryption and even if they use one, they use a weaker encryption so that all types of devices can work on the WiFi. The cybercriminals just need to be in the range of public WiFi – may be directly logged in or might be using some hacking device that shows what all is happening on the network. If a webpage employs simple text method for login, the password and ID are sent in plain text that can be easily accessed by cybercriminals.

Fix Public WiFi Vulnerabilities
There is not much you can do to fix Public WiFi vulnerabilities. Just make sure File and Printer sharing is turned off. Right click on the Internet icon in System Tray and click on Open Network and Sharing settings. From there, go to Advanced Sharing settings and turn off File and printer sharing.

Among other precautions,

Never use Public WiFi for working on confidential information
If you have to use a website that needs information about you or your credit card, try using a VPN service to encrypt the data packets; there are many free VPN services (and I prefer SpotFlux)
Home Wi-Fi Vulnerabilities
We tend to feel safer when using WiFi at home, but they too are vulnerable to brute force attacks and other forms of hacking. Among the foremost precautions you should take to fix Home WiFi vulnerabilities is to turn off WPS (WiFi Protected Setup).

Though the WPS is considered a security feature, experts urge users to turn it off as it can easily compromise your router to external attacks. You will have to open router page and make changes there as an administer. The method to turn off WPS is different for different models of routers so you’ll have to check with your manufacturer’s website. However, if you are good at troubleshooting, you can locate the option simply by browsing through existing tabs etc in the router page.

It goes without saying that the WiFi password should be strong enough. Try to use strong passwords (if you feel you will forget it, you can note it down and keep it in your purse or somewhere). Random strings of characters are best.

Finally, check to see if the security protocol being used for handshake is WPA2. Some routers provide it as WPA/WPA2. This option too is available in router configuration page.

If you are using Windows 10, turn off WiFi Sense so that your computer is not compromised by one of people sharing your Internet connect.

This intends to serve as a general guide to Public and Home WiFi Vulnerabilities and how to fix them. Know that even with all precautions we take, there are still vulnerabilities with WiFi (or even with wired connections) but if you take the precautions, chances of you getting hacked will reduce.

Information About WiFi safe for your health, children and at home

Security lock with privacy message on white computer keyboard – information privacy concept

I need not tell you how WiFi works. You know that WiFi signals start from the router and end up at the reception point of your WiFi enabled device. It’s the same case with Bluetooth, cellphones, etc. However, unlike cellphones and Bluetooth, WiFi signals do not accumulate at a certain part of your body. Incase of cellphones, it is the ear where you place the phone, and it is always either right or left – which is repeated per call. The more you talk, the more exposure at a certain point of your brain.

The point here is, WiFi is radio waves that may cause problems, but since there is no fixed point of your body, touching the devices all the time, the risk is quite low. If you carry your smartphone to your bed and keep it near your head at night, it may create problems due to cellular signals. But when there is some distance between your body and device, the risk becomes lesser.

Dangers and Health Hazards Of WiFi Signals
I will not say WiFi is completely safe, as it does employ harmful radio waves. But it is safer compared to cellphone signals that are more powerful and tend to affect the same body part again and again. Science has conducted several researches on WiFi waves and concluded that WiFi waves may potentially cause cancer. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified WiFi as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

There are certain factors that make it dangerous and it is not easy to get out of the RF signal range. As said earlier, WiFi signals are everywhere. If you switched off your WiFi at night, you are still exposed to the WiFi signals coming in from neighbors. To see how many such networks are active just click on the connectivity icon in the system taskbar. The more the networks, the more vulnerable you are.

Kids are at greater risk of possessing mental (brain) disorders as they grow up in WiFi environment. You can reduce the risk by turning off your WiFi at nights and by discouraging kids from clinging to the device for long durations. Make sure that they do not take it to bed. You also educate them that the waves are harmful so keep devices as far as possible (from the body).

WiFi safety tips
There is little you can do to keep yourself safe from the WiFi signals. As mentioned above, even if you close down your WiFi system, you are still exposed to those, coming from neighboring houses. The only solace here is that, since WiFi signals are coming from a longer distance, their effect would be lesser – just as the FM waves which aren’t that harmful.

I will not ask you to go wired even though it is safer than WiFi. Rather, try to keep away from the WiFi originating points and repeaters where the signals are strong enough to damage your brain over an extended period of time. If possible turn off your WiFi at nights or when you are not using them for longer durations.

Another important thing is to reduce the duration you use WiFi. Your own WiFi is stronger in your home compared to the WiFi networks around your building. Make sure you are not spending time on the same table where the router is installed. Do not sit under repeaters for long. On devices, turn off WiFi when not using it. It will not only reduce exposure, but it will save your battery also.

Steps to set up Wireless Network Connection in Windows 7/8/10

Wireless networks allow you to work independently – without the tension of plugging in long wires that not only look bad in the house, but also are a safety hazard. Since wireless signals travel in all directions and travel fast, you can use wireless network to work from your bedroom or from the porch of your home. This article explains how to set up wireless network connection in Windows 7/8/10.

Inventory Required To Set Up Wireless Network Connection
Since we are talking of a complete wireless network, we need the following items to set up wireless network connection:

An operating system that supports wireless networking. Windows 7 is a good operating system that allows you to create wireless networks without any problems. If you intend to use Windows XP, make sure you have Service Pack 3. Similarly for Windows Vista, you will need Vista Service Pack 2
A fast Internet connection: You can go for either a DSL or a cable broadband. In most cases, the cable or DSL router (see point 3 below) is provided by the ISP who also sets up Internet connection. Normally, the connection from wall jack (in case of DSL) and from hub (in case of cable) is wired to the router from where, wireless signals take over for communication

A wireless router: Since we need a wireless network, we will need a wireless router. Check to see if your ISP can give you one. If not, you can get wireless router from any computer market. Make sure you buy a reputed product for better results. Routers are available in different technologies. I suggest 802.11g or 802.11n for better connectivity and good signals. Routers using the mentioned technologies are more compatible with network adaptors of different companies. Make sure that you are buying a wireless router and not a wireless access points. The latter is used to expand existing wired networks and does not serve the purpose of wireless routers.
Wireless Adaptors: Most computers now come with built-in wireless adaptors. They are usually towards the front of laptops and computers and carry a switch that you can turn on and off to enable and disable network connectivity. If your computer does not have one, you can buy wireless adaptors from a computer store. I suggest that you buy USB wireless adaptors as they are quick and easy to install. Also, you can use them with different computers unlike the card type adaptors that need to be installed on the motherboards. Also, when buying wireless network adaptors, make sure they match the network technology of the router you are using in the network. That is, if you are using 802.11n router, your network adaptors should also be 802.11n. This ensures better connectivity.
To check if your computer has wireless network adaptors, proceed with the following steps:

Open Control Panel
Double click Network And Sharing (available under Network and Internet if you are using Category view)
In the left pane, click on Manage Network Adaptors
If your computer has a wireless network adaptor, it will show you a network icon saying Wireless Network Connection.

Figure 1

Setting Up Internet Connection

Most of the ISPs set up Internet connection when you take a new connection. If your ISP did not set up Internet for you, follow these steps (assumes your modem includes wireless router):

Plug one end of the phone wire into the phone jack provided on the router’s back
Plug the other end of phone wire into wall jack of phone connection. If you are using a splitter, connect this end of phone wire into the splitter socket that says DSL. You can then use another phone wire to connect the splitter to wall jack of phone
Plug the router into electrical socket.
Turn on your main computer that you will use to set up admin privileges.
Open Control Panel. If it is not in the Icon view, switch to the Icon view.
Click Network And Sharing Center
Below View Your Active Networks, click Setup A New Connection or Network
Double click Connect To Internet and follow the steps in the Wizard

If your modem is different from wireless router, you will need to connect phone wire – one end into modem and another end into phone jack or splitter. You can then connect the modem to wireless router using a network cable. You can then follow the steps 4 to 7 mentioned above. It should look somewhat like the image below.

At this point, your main computer should be able to connect to the Internet. If it is not connecting to the Internet, the connections must be wrong. Check the Network and Sharing window in Control Panel to see if Windows 7 is able to detect the wireless network (see figure 1 above). If not, make sure the modem/router are properly connected and switched on.

Securing The Network

Assuming that the main computer is now able to connect to the Internet, we will go ahead and configure the network for security.

Click the Network icon in Windows system tray
Click Open Network And Sharing
Click Setup A New Connection Or Network
Double click Setup A New Network
The wizard will walk you through a series of steps to configure your network
If your router supports WPA2, the wizard will show it in the list under Security Level. Set the Security Type to AES. Type a password under Security Key and click Next
Copy the security key to some safe place so that you can use it when setting up other computers in the network. You will also need it later when you wish to make changes to the network

Setting Up Other Computers On The Network
Click the Network icon in the Windows System Tray
Select your network (recognized by the name you provided in the wizard above)
Windows will ask you for the password. Enter the password you saved in step 7 above.

Setting Up Sharing On The Network
You have to turn on sharing on all computers, including the ones having devices such as printers and scanners so that you can use them from any computer on the network. The following applies to each computer on the network

Click the Network icon
Click Open Network and Sharing Center
Click Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options. A wizard will walk you through setting up sharing for files and devices attached to the computer.
Note that you can share files by copying them into Public folder in Windows 7. The Public folder is available in C:\Users folder.

This explains how to set up wireless network connection in Windows 7/8/10. If you face any problems, we will be happy to assist. Just drop a note in the comments stating the problem and your version of Windows.

Tips To Increase WiFi Speed, Signal Strength and Coverage Area

A normal WiFi should be able to cover all of your home or office so that you can use it from anywhere and on any devices such as laptops and phones. Not often do you get to use the optimal signal strength of your wireless network. This could be due to various factors I’ve listed below. This article offers assistance to extend the area covered by WiFi signals.

Increase WiFi Speed
Follow these steps to improve, boost, extend or increase Wi-Fi router signal and range at home or work place, without spending anything.

Extend WiFi Signal Area with Better Placement of Router
One of the most important things to think when designing a wireless network is to decide where to keep the router. You would want all corners of your house or office covered so that people can use it from anywhere. For that, you have to check the optimal place for the router. To do this, draw a rough layout of your house on paper. See where and how many walls and other things act as obstructions.

If your router is placed in an inside room and you want to use it outside in the porch, you may not get the wireless signals as the waves are killed by all those walls and furniture etc. between the router and your porch.

Adjust Obstacles for Flow of Signal Strength
Other than wall, things like your almirahs, water coolers and mirrors etc. weakens and even kill the WiFi signals moving that way. Almirahs are mostly metals that may prevent signals from crossing over through the unit. Water dampens signals of 2.4GHz for some reasons. This is the usual frequency used by wireless routers and even other wireless things at your home. Mirrors have a special coating towards the back that absorb signals of that frequency (2.4GHz).

Just check out if they can be removed from the invisible straight line between your router and the place you wish to use a WiFi device. If yes, you can adjust the items to make it clearer and easier for the wireless signals to pass through. Breaking down walls will further ease signal flow but I won’t suggest doing that to increase signal range! Instead, we’ll talk about repeaters to provide for signal strength loss when they travel through walls.

Remove Other Wireless Devices
As said earlier, the WiFi signals travel at 2.4GHz. I do not know exactly how, but some routers do provide an option of changing the frequency to 5GHz. If you can do that (check your router settings in a browser), nothing can beat that. But if there is no option in the router, try to minimize wireless devices around the router and wireless device you are using on WiFi. Almost all household appliances – including the wireless mouse, wireless printers, and even microwave ovens – run at the said frequency of 2.4GHz. Since you need these devices and cannot get rid of them, just make sure there is minimum interference among all these smart appliances.

Omnidirectional vs. Unidirectional Antennas
In the case of the first layout in the image above, if the antenna is omnidirectional, it is wasting half of your WiFi signals by sending them out of the house. In such cases, go for unidirectional antennas. You may combine unidirectional antennas with repeaters to get better WiFi signal strength in other rooms that lie on the other side of the direction set by unidirectional antennas.

Use Repeaters To Increase WiFi Range
Some people place the repeaters just at the point where the original wave frequency is very low. That setup, though fine, will not provide you with strong enough signals. Keep the repeaters in the zone and where the signal strengths are still a little strong. That way you can boost WiFi signals to extend its range.

Upgrade Network Cards and Router
WiFi works fine when the router and network cards are of the same type. At the time of writing this article (May 7, 2014), Wireless N is considered best. Routers and network cards are not much expensive. There are many companies selling them under $100 while network cards are somewhere between $30 and $50 (as published on Cisco site). If you are willing to spend money, upgrade to a better network and see how the change increases your WiFi network coverage area.

Tips to Improve Wireless Network Signal on Windows 10/8/7

When wireless network goes weak, things go slow and/or you get disconnected too often. You already know how irritating it is to work on a network with weak signals. 10/8/7 notifies you when the signal strength is weak. But what are the steps you can take to improve the wireless network signal or reception?

Improve Wireless Network Speed
How can you improve wireless network signal? Here are some tips that will help.

Place Your Wireless Router or Access Point At A Central Location

You need to check out the central point of the wireless network you have installed in your home and place the wireless router accordingly. If your house consists of two floors and you wish to access the network from any of the floor, you may want to place the router on top of a shelf so that both floors get proper signals. Similarly, check out what all rooms will be using the router and place the router in a place from where, each of the room are more or less at an equal distance.

If you place the router in a corner room, you will get good signals in that room but the room to the other corner of the house may receive weak signals. Also, in this case, most of the signals will move out of the house and you need to password protect the network so that others don’t start using it.

Remove Obstructions If Possible

While you cannot move the house walls, you can move other obstacles to wireless signals. These include metal shelves, almirahs etc. You also need to move away the router from the external walls, that is, the walls marking the external limits of house. Metal items will obstruct the path of wireless signals as the signals travel in a straight line and do not have the capability to bend at obstructions. Placing the signals towards the outer walls will give away most of the signal strength to your neighbors.

Use A High Gain Antenna

The default antenna that comes with different router models are omni-directional. This means that they send signals into all the directions. In such cases, if your router is placed towards the outer walls, half the signals go outside the home. If it is a detachable antenna, replace it with high gain antenna to improve wireless signal. A high gain antenna allows you to focus the signals at the angles you want.

Stop Using Card Based Adaptors In Computers

If your laptop or computer has built-in wireless networking capability, it is fine. If not, and you are using card based wireless network adaptors, chances are that your PCs won’t be able to “talk back” with the router. This means that though your router sends signals of good strength to your computers, the card based wireless network adaptors do not have the functionality to send back signals of proper strength. For wireless networks to function properly, both the router and computers should be able to communicate properly. I suggest replacing the card based wireless adaptors with USB wireless network adaptors. Another benefit of using USB wireless network adaptors is that they employ high gain antenna that will improve your wireless network.

Use A Wireless Repeater

Just as the radio stations use a repeater at regular distances to intercept weak signals and boost them before sending them forward, you can use wireless repeaters in your home network. The purpose of using wireless repeaters is to pick up weak signals and send them into a particular direction after boosting the signal strength. This will not only allow for improving the network strength, it also helps in expanding the network to a wider area.

Upgrade The Firmware Of Router And Adaptors

Vendors of routers and adaptors keep on updating the firmware related to their products. The updates are available on the vendors’ websites. Make it a habit to check out these websites for updates at regular intervals. If you find any updates to your devices, upgrade them. This will not only enhance your products’ performance, it also improves the security provided by the product.

Move to 802.11n

Most of the network devices are built around 802.11g technology. 802.11n technology is here and offers faster speeds with better stability. Consider moving to 802.11n by replacing your older router and network adaptors. Also, when buying equipment, buy all of them from a single vendor for better performance.

Should Know How Hackers Can Steal Passwords Over WiFi

The issue was raised in the past too, but the methods described were not as accurate and predictable as the WindTalker method to steal passwords over WiFi. Among the many methods talked earlier, the best bet was to place some device between the victim and WiFi that could read traffic patterns. This was the closest one could get, until now. They scanned (sniffed) packets and tried to hack into the computers of victims to figure out the passwords.

The WindTalker method was devised and explained by professors in University of Florida, Shanghai Jaio Tong University and the University of Massachusetts. The paper delves into details on how to steal passwords using a common WiFi. This does mean that for the method to work, both the victim and hacker should be on the same WiFi. That allows those hackers to read the victim’s keystrokes.

This method does not require any extra device between victim and hacker devices. They do not even need any software installed on the device of the victim. Simply by analyzing the traffic in parallel, the hackers using WindTalker method can check out the movements of victim’s finger movements. The paper says that even on a new device, the chances of success of getting the right password in single attempt are 84 percent

What is WindTalker & how does it work
WindTalker is the name given to the method that allows parallel scanning of WiFi signals arising out of the victim’s device to retrieve the data being typed on the device.

The first part of the method is to identify the signals coming from the victim’s device. Note that the hackers do not need any software to be installed on the victims’ phones or other devices that they intend to hack.

The second requirement is to be able to use the WiFi network. This could be easy at public places where they have free WiFi. If not, the hackers can create an ad hoc rogue WiFi network and offer it as free WiFi. Once the victim falls for it and connects to it, the work of stealing information is half done.

The final thing to do is to check the movements of the fingers of the victims. The directions and pace with which the victim is moving his or her fingers and when she or he is pressing key(s) are noted down. This gives away the data being typed by the victim

Restrictions of WindTalker
The first thing that can spoil hackers’ attempts if the victim disconnects from the WiFi before the input and input pattern is decoded. But the method is fast, so chances are the hackers will succeed in their endeavors.

The requirement of having to connect to the WiFi network makes it a bit hard. In cases where free and public WiFi is not present, the victims will have to create a public network which is not very hard to do. Anyone can create a public WiFi using their Windows or Android phones, tablets. Both operating systems have the option to create mobile hotspots and are easy to set up. Once the WiFi is set up, it is not difficult to have people connecting to the FREE OPEN network.

Device models also play a part in processing data: i.e. monitoring the finger movements of the victims. Since the shape and size vary across different phone and tablet devices, it takes a bit to understand the keystrokes being sent on the WiFi. For example, the keyboard of an 8-inch device will vary from an 11-inch device and so it may take some time to understand the movements.

Other than the above, there were no restrictions and requirements of WindTalker that I could notice in this paper.

“WindTalker is motivated from the observation that keystrokes on mobile devices will lead to different hand coverage and the finger motions, which will introduce a unique interference to the multi-path signals of WiFi” the researchers say.
Simply put, WindTalker monitors finger movements and provides hackers with whatever is being typed on the victim device.

More Information About Facebook’s Face Recognition

Nimesh Patel, aggrieved user of Facebook and Illinois resident, isn’t naive: He well understands that the social networking company collects information about him. But Facebook went too far for his liking when it collected certain intimate details about his physiognomy, such as how many millimeters of skin lie between his eyebrows, how far the corners of his mouth extend across his cheeks, and dozens of other aspects of his facial geometry that enable the company’s face recognition software to identify him.

Patel is a named plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Facebook alleging that the company’s use of face recognition technology violates an Illinois law passed in 2008. The Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) sets limits on how companies can store and use people’s biometric identifiers, which the law defines as fingerprints, voiceprints, retina or iris scans, and scans of hand or face geometry. The case is scheduled for trial this October, and similar Illinois-based lawsuits are proceeding against Google and Snapchat. In the upcoming year, the courts will host a debate over who can keep our faces on file.

The FBI’s FACES face recognition database mostly contains images of law-abiding citizens taken from driver’s license and passport photos. Source: Center on Privacy and Technology, Georgetown Law
Civil liberties groups say that debate is long overdue. The Illinois law is a weird outlier in the United States, where face recognition is increasingly being integrated into surveillance systems and law enforcement databases. The technology has rapidly improved in recent years, says Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and regulations haven’t kept pace. “We could soon have security cameras in stores that identify people as they shop,” she says.

The case against Facebook hinges on a handy photo-tagging feature introduced in 2010: When a user uploads a photo, Facebook’s system automatically picks out any faces in the shot, tries to match those faces to people it’s seen in photos before, and offers up the names of any friends it has identified. According to the lawsuit, this “tag suggestion” system proves that Facebook collects and stores “face templates” for its American users. (The company turned off this feature in Europe in 2012 over privacy concerns.)

The Illinois law predates Facebook’s introduction of the tag-suggestion feature and doesn’t mention social networks. Instead, BIPA cites the potential use of biometric IDs in financial transactions, and notes that these identifiers differ significantly from PIN codes and passwords—if customers’ biometric IDs are stolen by hackers, they can’t be issued new fingerprints or faces. But the class-action lawyers who have recently seized on the law aren’t going after banks; they’re targeting tech companies. Yet another lawsuit, settled in April 2016 for an undisclosed sum, took aim at the photo storage site Shutterfly.

Under BIPA, private companies must develop written policies stating how long they will retain people’s biometric information and when they will permanently destroy that data. “In a way, this is a modest law,” says Claire Gartland, an attorney who works on consumer privacy issues at EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It just requires a disclaimer to the consumer.”

By maintaining a database of Illinois users’ face templates without a written policy in place, the suit says, Facebook has violated the law. A Facebook spokesperson declined to answer questions about the lawsuit, but notes that users can easily turn off the tag-suggestion feature for their accounts.

The legal wrangling has already begun. In late 2015 the company filed a motion to dismiss [PDF] based on its interpretation of BIPA’s list of biometric identifiers, which includes face scans and face geometries yet explicitly excludes photographs and physical descriptions. Facebook argued that the law refers only to physical face scanners that create biometric records based on flesh-and-blood faces. But the court called Facebook’s argument “unpersuasive,” saying that the law was intended to address all emerging biometric technologies, and allowed the suit to move forward [PDF]. If Facebook loses the case, the company could be forced to pay damages to millions of Illinois users and change its policies in that state—or, more practically, throughout the United States.

“We could soon have security cameras in stores that identify people as they shop”
In the courtroom, it’s quite possible that the technical aspects of Facebook’s face recognition technology will come into play. The courts may need to know whether the company uses the conventional approach to face-matching software, says biometrics expert Anil Jain, a professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University. Such systems build and store face templates based on thousands of measurements: “They extract landmark points by sampling across the contours of the face, the eyebrows, the nose, the points along the lips, the two ends of the mouth, and so forth,” he says.

But Jain notes that Facebook researchers pioneered a new approach to face recognition that relies on machine learning, introducing their DeepFace system in a 2014 paper. In the report, the researchers describe training their system using a data set of 4.4 million labeled faces drawn from Facebook photographs. The system’s deep neural network examined the faces based on millions of parameters, and derived its face-matching rules based on whatever mysterious lessons it learned. “It’s more like a black box,” Jain says.

Facebook won’t say whether it now uses DeepFace, or something like it, for its standard tag-suggestion feature. If the company does employ this advanced method, however, its current technology might not violate the letter of the law. “The question is what they store in the database,” explains Jain. As the DeepFace program analyzes raw photographs, the system might simply hold on to the analytic rules it has learned, and might not bother to store face templates that count as biometric identifiers. Therein lies the irony: If Facebook doesn’t save faces in its database, it may save face in court.

Digital Life And Your Death

You’ve probably thought about what will happen to your finances, your possessions and maybe even your real estate when you die. But what about your Facebook account? Or your hard-drive backups?

For the past two decades, most of us in the modern world have gradually shifted our central living space online. That’s 20-ish years of documenting our real-life experiences while also creating entirely new versions of ourselves in countless places online.

These digital lives are basically immortal, so you may as well figure out while you’re still alive what will happen to them after you’re gone.

There are two main things to consider: What will happen to your accounts and what will happen to the data contained therein. For example, you can give someone authority to delete your Google account and to download all your photos stored there after you die.

It’s a grim thought, but like writing a last will and testament, this has become just another part of death preparation.

Many online spaces offer some form of death planning. But this is still a relatively new concept, and some of the most popular destinations on the internet don’t give users a way to plan for their death. In that case, it’s best to establish a plan now with a trusted loved one.

For the websites and services that do offer help, here’s what to know.


Whom do you trust to mind your central online presence after your death? That’s probably the person you want to be your Facebook legacy contact.

This person will be able to write a post that will remain at the top of your profile, update your profile photo and respond to friend requests. You can also allow that person to download an archive of your public activity (including posts, photos and “likes”), but he or she can’t read your messages, so your most intimate secrets will be safe.

Alternatively, you can set your account to delete everything once Facebook is notified of your death.

Facebook legacy contacts, however, will not also have access to your Instagram account (Facebook owns the photo-sharing app). But Instagram accounts can be memorialized or, if requested by a verified family member, deleted.


Google lets you choose up to 10 people to be the executors of your account once you die or your account becomes inactive via its inactive account manager feature.

To set this up, choose an amount of time between sign-ins for your account to be designated “inactive.” Once that threshold is met (for example, you don’t sign into any Google service for a certain number of months), your chosen contact will get a prewritten email from you with, presumably, your wishes for your account.

Unlike your legacy contact on Facebook, you can designate this person to have full access to your Google account, including email and chat histories, and he or she can download the data you specify. (You also have the option not to give that person access to any of it.)

Google also allows you to delete your account and all its data.


Twitter has no equivalent to a legacy contact or a way to plan for your online data after your death. It does, however, let a “verified immediate family member of the deceased” delete your account if that person can provide your death certificate and other official documents.

A similar protocol is in place in the event a user becomes incapacitated, though in that case someone will have to have proof of power of attorney.

In certain circumstances, Twitter says it will consider removing “imagery” of a deceased person, based on “public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content.”

LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr

These three networks offer no type of death planning, though all offer some form of account management for the deceased.

LinkedIn will let a verified next-of-kin have an account removed (via this form).

Snapchat said it can delete the account of a deceased person at the request of a next-of-kin (with a death certificate).

And Tumblr will let a next-of-kin request that an account be deleted.

Snapchat and Tumblr declined to say whether they’ll eventually add a similar legacy-contact feature, and LinkedIn said it’s “considering” some form of death planning or account memorialization.

Beyond that, many sites (including Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL) have relatively standard protocols in place for immediate family members to request the deletion of a deceased person’s account.

Online data backup services

Online data storage is an especially tricky part of death planning. The industrywide push for privacy and encryption, while great for personal protection, has created its own problems.

“There’s a very real security and privacy implication that can somewhat conflict” with online death planning, said Ahin Thomas, the vice president of marketing for Backblaze, an online backup service. “If you set up a private encryption key — we’re not joking — we don’t have access.”

In one recent case, a widow contacted the company for access to her late husband’s backups, but the data was inaccessible because it had been encrypted.

“It was heartbreaking and sad, and I wish we could’ve done something,” Mr. Thomas said. “But the stuff was encrypted.”

So what can we do? The best advice, Mr. Thomas said, is to simply give the keys to your data to someone you trust.

Easy Steps to Protecting Your Digital Life

There are more reasons than ever to understand how to protect your personal information.

Major website hackings seem ever more frequent. Investigators believe that a set of top-secret National Security Agency hacking tools were offered to online bidders this summer.

And many of those worried about expanded government surveillance by the N.S.A. and other agencies have taken steps to secure their communications.

In a recent Medium post, Quincy Larson, the founder of Free Code Camp, an open-source community for learning to code, detailed the reasons it might be useful for people to make their personal data more difficult for attackers to obtain.

“When I use the term ‘attacker’ I mean anyone trying to access your data whom you haven’t given express permission to,” he wrote, “whether it’s a hacker, a corporation or even a government.”

In an interview, Mr. Larson walked us through some of the basic steps he recommended. We added a few of our own, based on additional interviews.

1. Download Signal, or Start Using WhatsApp to send text messages.

Encryption is a fancy computer-person word for scrambling your data so no one can understand what it says without a key. But encrypting is more complex than just switching a couple of letters around.

Mr. Larson said that by some estimates, with the default encryption scheme that Apple uses, “you’d have to have a supercomputer crunching day and night for years to be able to unlock a single computer.”

He said the best way to destroy data was not to delete it, because it could potentially be resurrected from a hard drive, but to encode it in “a secure form of cryptography.”

Signal is one of the most popular apps for those who want to protect their text messages. It is free and extremely easy to use. And unlike Apple’s iMessage, which is also encrypted, the code it uses to operate is open source.

“You can be sure by looking at the code that they’re not doing anything weird with your data,” Mr. Larson said.

“In general, the idea behind the app is to make privacy and communication as simple as possible,” said Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of Open Whisper Systems, the organization that developed Signal.

That means that the app allows you to use emojis, send pictures and enter group texts.

One bit of friction: You do have to persuade your friends to join the service, too, if you want to text them. The app makes that easy to do.

WhatsApp, the popular chat tool, uses Signal’s software to encrypt its messaging. And in Facebook Messenger and Google’s texting app Allo, you can turn on an option that encrypts your messages.

Mr. Marlinspike said the presidential election had spurred a lot of interest in Signal, leading to a “substantial increase in users.”

When asked to speculate why that was, Mr. Marlinspike simply said, “Donald Trump is about to be in control of the most powerful, invasive and least accountable surveillance apparatus in the world.”

Signal is available for both Android and iOS.

2. Protect your computer’s hard drive with FileVault or BitLocker.

Your phone may be the device that lives in your pocket, but Mr. Larson described the computer as the real gold mine for personal information.

Even if your data were password protected, someone who gained access to your computer “would have access to all your files if they were unencrypted.”

Luckily, both Apple and Windows offer means of automatic encryption that simply need to be turned on.

3. The way you handle your passwords is probably wrong and bad.

You know this by now. Changing your passwords frequently is one of the simplest things you can do to protect yourself from digital invasion.

But making up new combinations all the time is irritating and inconvenient.

Mr. Larson recommends password managers, which help store many passwords, with one master password. He said he uses LastPass but knows plenty of people who use 1Password and KeePass, and he doesn’t have a strong reason to recommend one over another.

Not every security expert trusts password managers. Some noted that LastPass itself was hacked last year.

So that means you may want to write them down in one secure location, perhaps a Post-it note at home. It seems more far-fetched that a hacker would bother to break into your home for a Post-it note than find a way into your computer.

If you take that route, we suggest setting a weekly or biweekly calendar reminder to change your passwords.

As far as making passwords up goes: Don’t be precious about it. Use a random word (an object near you while you are hunched over your Post-it), scramble the letters and sprinkle in numbers and punctuation marks. If you’re writing passwords down, you don’t have to worry about making them memorable.

4. Protect your email and other accounts with two-factor authentication.

When you turn this step on, anyone trying to sign in to your email from new devices will have to go through a secondary layer of security: a code to enter the inbox that is sent to your phone via text message. (Though sadly, not through Signal.)

You can also set two-factor authentication for social media accounts and other sites. But email is the most important account, since many sites use email for password recovery, a fact that hackers have exploited. Once they have access to your email, they can get access to banking, social media, data backups and work accounts.

5. Use a browser plug-in called HTTPS Everywhere.

Mr. Marlinspike recommended this plug-in, developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital security organization. It ensures that you are using the secure form of websites, meaning that your connection to the site will be encrypted and that you will be protected from various forms of surveillance and hacking.

And this is a good time to note that you should always find out whether the Wi-Fi network you are using is secure. Public networks — and even private networks without security keys — often are not.

6. Remember that incognito mode isn’t always private.

You may be in such a hurry to use this feature, available on Chrome, Safari and Firefox, among other browsers, that you do not heed its clear warning.

On Chrome, the second paragraph of the “incognito” home screen spells it out for you.

“You aren’t invisible,” it says. “Going incognito doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your internet service provider or the websites you visit.”

Mr. Larson recommended Tor in his article, a browser that allows for private web activity. But we’re not going to recommend that here, mostly because Tor is relatively slow and clunky at the moment.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t use it very often,” Mr. Larson said.

He said he suspected that other browsers would start adding ways to browse more securely.

“Apple is very security conscious,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they started to incorporate Tor-like features into Safari.”

7. Do sensitive searches in DuckDuckGo.

Mr. Larson said that if people were paranoid about Google, he would strongly encourage them to use DuckDuckGo, an alternative search engine.

He said, however, that he was not paranoid.

“Google is built on the hacker ethic, and they have put principle above profits in some aspects,” he said.

But he also acknowledged that he meets “people all the time who are extremely skeptical of any large software organization, and I think that’s reasonable.” There are trade-offs. Google’s search results are more useful and accurate than competitors’ precisely because of the ways it collects and analyzes information about its customers’ searches.