Note to purists: I'm writing this as a casual heads-up type post for my friends on Dreamwidth, not for scholarly or educational purposes, so if some part of it disagrees with you, I don't care.
Everyone has shit. I have shit. You have shit. Most of this isn't shit you would want anyone to see, and most of it lives in your netbook, on your laptop or tucked not-so-safely away inside of your desktop computer.
There are simple steps you can take to prevent others from finding, commenting upon, copying, stealing, and uploading to the entire Internet your shit for everyone else to see.
The security precautions I take on my computers are designed to keep me out of your computer. If you can keep me out, you can probably keep anyone out, since I'm too lazy to try very hard to get in.
- Password protect your computer. Password protecting BIOS is probably not a bad idea. I don't do it since you can reset any password by popping the battery out, messing with a jumper or two, and popping the battery back in, but not everyone knows that, so if you don't want to lose your shit, password protecting BIOS isn't a bad place to start.
- Password protect your personal Windows account. Pick a long, involved, ridiculous password that only you will ever think of, nothing obvious, just something easy to remember only for you.
- Do the same for the computer's default Administrator account, but choose another password. If you don't password-protect the Administrator account, anyone can view your files or online activity simply by hitting Control-Alt-Delete at the log-in screen or else booting into Safe Mode and choosing the Admin account. Don't make your shit this easy to get into.
- Turn the Guest account OFF. Ask other users of your computer to select passwords for their accounts, then go into the User Control Panel and change their accounts from Administrator to Limited if you haven't done so already, and make sure the files on your user account are set to private.
- If you fail to take the above steps, you're screwed. Seriously. Keeping me out in the first place is the easiest way to protect your computer from prying eyes, since popping the hard drives out - or using a boot CD to reset your passwords - is not how I roll. It's not how most casual intruders will roll, either.
- If you're too lazy or trusting to take the above steps, set Internet Explorer to clear web history when you close the browser, or make sure you clear web history manually. If you use Firefox, use the Private Browsing setting for all browsing sessions. You might call these "paranoia settings", but you don't know paranoia until you realize you left access to your entire web history open to anyone who wanders by.
- Similarly, regardless of whether you use Internet Explorer or Firefox, do not set either browser to remember passwords or form history. That's like giving me the keys to your most private kingdom - why would you want to do that?
- To make spying super-annoying, you might also want to password-protect your offline files and folders and only keep one restore point around. You also don't need your real name on your main user account. I can edit all traces of it out of your registry in under five minutes, using jv16 PowerTools to double-check myself, so if you think it's "marking" a computer as "yours", it isn't.
- And one more thing: you walk away from your computer once in a while to grab a cup of coffee, use the bathroom, answer the phone, or whatever, and even if it's just for one minute, under the right conditions, that's enough time for me to get something done. So set your screensaver to activate in less than five minutes (one minute is your best bet) and password-protect your windows on resume.
Lastly, don't think that taking the above steps will keep me out of your shit. Almost every step I outlined here I can also circumvent. The only thing that might stymie me, at least for a while, is if you use disk encryption on all drives your computer writes to, but I think disk encryption is one major pain in the ass to pull off. But it's worth it if you really want to keep me out.
Look at all the other ways I can - and will - get into your shit: Windows 7 and Vista (and to a limited extent, XP as well) keep logs, journals, and versioning information that I could easily have a field day with. Tools like Recuva, Everything, and Disk Investigator are pure gold to me. And if all else fails, and I know you pretty well, I can figure out how to socially engineer my way into almost any of your shit - which reminds me, keep your online passwords safe, too.
Don't assume the people you know pretty well are not as curious about your shit as I am.