In autumn of 2010, a controversial whistle-blowing website by the name of Wikileaks was at the top of the headlines after it posted close to 90,000 classified military documents to the public internet domain. The incident not only lead to an international diplomatic crises among allied and non-allied countries and prompted a global man-hunt for Wikileaks Director Jullian Assange, but it also exposed the vulnerability of the most secured information in the world. The public reaction to the Wikileaks was split down the middle. According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 47% of Americans felt that the incident hurt the public interest while 42% said that it helped the public interest. Interestingly enough, there was also a clear division between age groups: while those younger than 50 felt the leaks served the public interest (48% felt it served and 40% said it harmed), those aged 50 or older felt the leaks harmed the public interest (55% felt it harmed and 40% felt it served). Regardless of people's reaction to the impact of the information leaks, people of all ages began to raise personal concerns over their own information security, asking: if the most highly classified information guarded by the world's leading security and technology experts was breached, then how can the average responsible citizen protect his private documents?
Read on to discover four actions you can take to protect your private information, at home or in the office.
Protect Your Files with a Password
Password-protecting your Microsoft Office files such as Word and Excel is a quick and easy task that is also very effective. So effective that even government agencies around the world such as the New York State GIS Clearing House use this method to protect their files. Before getting started, it's important for you to know that the passwords you use in your documents cannot be retrieved if you forget them, so it's a good idea to create a master list of passwords which you can either secure with a password you will remember, or save in a secure location that only you will know where to retrieve. If you follow the steps below you will see just how easy it is to keep your information private.
How to Password-Protect an MS Word Document
1. Open the Word document that you wish to create a password for.
2. Go to "File" options and select "Save As", this will open a dialog window.
3. Select "Tools" and then select "Security Options".
4. You will see a field next to the text "Password to open"; here you will enter your selected password.
NOTE: Windows 3.x, Windows 95 or 98 do not provide the ability to password protect your files and you will need to download a program such as DLOCK2 2.01 or Secure Code 2.0.
How to Password-Protect Folders on Windows XP
1. Right click on the folder that you wish to create a password for and select "Properties"
2. Chose the tab labeled "Sharing" and check-mark the box labeled "Make this folder private".
3. Next, click "Apply" and "OK" to save the changes.
Protect Your Files with Rules & Permissions
Rules and permissions refer to the ability to instruct a system which files can be accessed by which user. Based on a 'Need to Know' philosophy, only the people who are involved in certain projects or belong to certain managerial ranks within a corporation are privy to specific levels of confidential and sensitive information. Toshiba is one such company that takes great precautions with the information stored on its database; the company assigns rules and permissions based on a person's location within the corporate structure. As a part of its information security policy, the company has put in place an information security management framework. This framework shows a hierarchy of the company's management distributed across a spectrum of information accessibility. The "Rules & Permission" method of protecting information is put in place not only in the private sector, but also in the public sector. The U.S. government has created a protocol that specifies a set of security requirements for "Authorization Server" products. Called "The U.S. Government Protection Profile for Authorization Server for Basic Robustness Environments", the system is divided into levels of authorization and ensures that only specific people with their respective authorization level have access to highly sensitive material.
Delete Classified Files Located in "Unallocated Space"
Unallocated space is memory space on a hard drive that contains scattered remains of deleted files. Most people are usually unaware that fragments of documents and drafts are stored temporarily on their computer's unallocated space. It is important to remove any confidential materials from this area in the hard drive. Interestingly enough, with today's growing dependence on technology and the rise in confidential files saved in digital form, unallocated space has created some controversy. One such controversy relates to a businessman by the name of Arie Genger. Genger tried to protect important documents sensitive to national security that were inadvertently created in the unallocated space. Oddly enough, he was later held in contempt for taking such security measures in spite of the fact that court preservation order of books and records was implemented earlier under the supervision of a legal team. Regardless of the court's ruling, the highest security measures include deleting sensitive materials from a computer's unallocated space. Not doing so increases the odds of allowing unauthorized access to classified information.
Block All External Means to Accessing Your Files
For those of you who manage especially sensitive information, the best way to prevent outside access to your computer is to simply block all access points. This means blocking all USB devices, CD/DVD burners, Bluetooth, Fire wire ports, Internet Access and Email. Although this is considered one of the more extreme methods of protecting digital information, it is also one of the most effective. This method is being executed by Digital Content Protection (DiCOP) experts such as Zinstall and other such organizations with the highest security standards including armies and government offices around the globe. Because of its extreme nature, many companies use this form of protection in conjunction with other forms of security protection, such as rules and permissions. This means that certain sensitive information is stored on such an isolated computer, and those who need to access specific information are granted permissions based on their information authorization.
At home or in the workplace, it has become clear that classified and sensitive information requires the greatest measures of security. Especially in the era of Wikileaks, hackers or malicious viruses, everyday people must be proactive in utilizing all the tools available to them when protecting sensitive and classified materials.