Applications

Operating System

The operating system stands between the hardware and applications that run on it. From the productivity and security perspective, we recommend using the Linux operating system. Linux is developer-friendly, efficient, and open-source. Some of its essential features are the filesystem or the terminal, which allows using applications programmatically.

We recommend starting with Ubuntu, an intuitive and easy-to-use Linux distribution, which as of version 18.04, comes with the Gnome desktop environment. We must master basic operating system features such as workspaces and keyboard shortcuts for search, navigation, and managing windows to efficiently the computer. We should also enable the night-light from display settings to decrease screen lights' adverse effects on sleep.

Read more and download Ubuntu from their website.

Browser

The browser stands between us and the internet. It determines how we experience the internet by interpreting the files sent by the websites we visit. We can also add custom capabilities to the browser by using addons. For example, we can block trackers and remove advertisements and other unwanted elements from websites. It is even possible to change the colors of websites on the fly. With these features, we can improve productivity, privacy, and security when surfing the web.

We recommend using the Mozilla Firefox browser on desktop and mobile devices. It is a fast, privacy-oriented, cross-platform browser with useful settings, features, and addons.

Next, we discuss browser preferences, addons, and how to use the browser effectively.

Start by installing uBlock Origin addon. It is an efficient, wide-spectrum content blocker that blocks advertisements, trackers, and other unwanted elements from websites. Next, install the Privacy Badger addon, which further reduces tracking.

To effectively use the browser, we need to learn to use tabs, search bar, and bookmarks. We can open a new tab with Ctrl + T, close the current tab with Ctrl + W, and switch tabs with Ctrl + Tab.

The search bar is perhaps the most useful feature of the browser, as it is what allows us to browse the website. We can focus the text cursor on the search bar using Ctrl + L. By typing text on the search bar, it suggests websites based on your bookmarks. We recommend disabling the top site and history suggestions from the preferences. We can also type @<name> to use any installed search engine directly. We recommend using privacy-focused search engines to avoid filter bubbles created by personalized search results from search companies that track your data.

For example, Startpage and DuckDuckGo are privacy-focused search engines. Unlike Google, they do not require entering CAPTCHA when browsing anonymously with a virtual private network (VPN).

We can save websites for later use using bookmarks. Ctrl + B shows the bookmarks bar, and Ctrl + D bookmarks the current page. However, you should use Pocket instead of bookmarks to save consumable content such as articles and videos or subscribe to recurrent content using RSS feeds. We discuss more about managing digital media on the Digital Media page.

Dark themes are often more eye-friendly, especially in the evenings. The Dark Reader addon transforms website themes into dark themes on the fly. It has customization options for toggling dark and light mode, contrast, brightness, sepia, and grayscale.

We will mention browser addons for other applications later as we discuss them.

For more discussion about the internet, privacy, and online issues, we recommend listening to the IRL podcast by Mozilla.

Email

Emails have two purposes: security and communication. Here is how to set up two separate emails to tackle both of them.

First, we create a new Protonmail address as our secure email. We use the secure email for registering accounts and as a backup email for resetting passwords. We should open the secure email only when we need to use it and otherwise keep it logged out. We should also keep the secure email address private to avoid targeted attacks like phishing.

Protonmail is secure, encrypted email service.

Second, we create a new email address as our communication email. I recommend Hey, but a second Protonmail address also works fine. We use the communication email for all personal and business communication, receive email notifications, and newsletters. Since we want to keep the communication email continuously open to receive and read messages, we should avoid registering security-critical accounts to the communication email.

Hey is a modern email service designed for productivity. I recommend watching “Take a tour of HEY” where Jason Fried, the company’s CEO, explains all the unique features of Hey.

Password Management

Everyone should use a password manager for managing user credentials such as usernames and passwords. Password managers improve security by enabling the user to generate, use, and manage strong, unique passwords instead of reusing similar, weak passwords. We should also use two-factor authentication for all security-critical services. Many online password managers have a two-factor authentication application and allow backup. You must register your online password manager to your secure email!

Avoid using your phone number and text messages (SMS) for authentication or password recovery. Phone numbers are vulnerable to attacks and social engineering on your telecom provider. Also, attackers can fake SMS messages sender to seem like they are coming from a trusted source in an attempt to phish your credentials.
LastPass is an online password manager and LastPass Authenticator is an application for two-factor authentication.

We need to create strong and easy-to-memorize master passwords for the password manager, email, and operating system. We can use the password generator in LastPass to generate pronounceable, at least 16 characters long, lower-case only, passwords. If needed, we can modify the generated password by adding numbers, upper case characters, or special characters. Pronounceable passwords are easier to memorize and type.

Next, we need to memorize the password. One method for memorizing is to create an encrypted container such as the KeePass database with the password and periodically recalling the password from memory by opening it. It typically takes a couple of days to memorize new passwords. Once you have learned the password, you can use it for the intended service.

KeePass is a free, open-source offline password manager. Linux is supported using KeePassX and Android using Keepass2Android. To share a KeePass file across multiple devices, you need to use a cloud storage service.
If you want to understand why cybersecurity matters, I recommend listening to Darknet Diaries, by Jack Rhysider. It is an addicting podcast about cybersecurity stories covering topics such as hackers, breaches, APTs, hacktivism, and cybercrime.
Krebs on Security, by Brian Krebs, is also an excellent resource for cultivating computer security and cybercrime awareness. His blog covers breaches, hacks, and other developments in cybercrime.

Virtual Private Network

We can further improve privacy and security by using a virtual private network (VPN). VPN hides the device’s IP address by routing the traffic through one of their servers and encrypts the communication between the device and the server. Encryption improves security when we are using public networks. VPNs also allow circumventing geoblocking by selecting servers located in different countries. When choosing a VPN provider, we need to pay attention to the company’s policy and the country’s legislation. For example, their policy should include not keeping any logs of traffic and allow peer-to-peer traffic.

Private Internet Access is a cross-platform, VPN service.

Disk Enryption

Many people might falsely believe that their computer’s password protects their data and files. However, the operating system password protects against unauthorized network access, but not the data on the computer’s hard drives. In other words, an outsider could access your files by removing the hard drives and connecting them to another computer. However, we can secure the hard drives' data by using encryption. Without knowing the encryption key, the outsider could access unusable encrypted data, not the actual files. We can use a disk encryption utility to create full disk encryption or virtual encrypted disks for encryption.

As with all encryption, if you lose your encryption key, you will lose all your data.

Full disk encryption is suitable for portable devices such as laptops and thumb drives, which are susceptible to being lost and risk losing confidential information. The benefit of full disk encryption is that it encrypts all data on the device automatically. However, the downside is that encryption requires computation, which decreases performance for I/O heavy operations.

Virtual encrypted disks are technically easier to use and suitable when fully encrypting hard drives is not feasible for technical or performance reasons. Disk encryption utilities create them as binary files that contain the encrypted data. When mounted, they act in the same way as regular disks, in which we can store confidential files. There is a performance decrease only when operating inside the encrypted disk.

VeraCrypt if an open-source disk encryption utility, which supports full disk encryption and virtual encrypted disks.

Time Management

Google Calendar is a time and calendar management application.

Task Management

Kanban is a popular project management system. It originates from lean manufacturing and has become popular in Agile software development, but it works well for managing tasks for knowledge work in general. Kanban’s core principles are visualizing your work, limiting your work in process, and focusing on flow.

The Kanban board consists of columns, cards, members and optionally a timer. Each card represents a task in the project, and each column represents the state of a task. We move the cards from left to right in columns to visualize work progress. The columns in a standard board are To-Do, Work in Progress, and Done. We can limit the number of tasks in the Work in Progress column to avoid multitasking. Each card has the following attributes: Title, description, due date, subtasks, color to indicate task type, label to classify task, and members assigned to the task. Subtasks should be so simple that they do not warrant a new Kanban card.

We can measure the time to complete a task using the timer and use the measurements to estimate the future workload of similar tasks. We recommend using a timer only for repetitive mechanic tasks because time pressure seems to have an unfavorable effect on creativity.

KanbanFlow is an application for managing project tasks, due dates, and Pomodoro timer.

Instant Messaging

Telegram is a free and secure cross-platform messaging application.
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