THE BLOG
11/14/2012 04:02 pm ET | Updated Jan 14, 2013

Privacy Lessons from Petraeus Scandal: How to Protect Your Online Files

If the scandal surrounding CIA director David Petraeus has taught us one thing, it's that your online conversations are anything but private. Email is not secure, no matter what email client you are using. Files can be stored for years on servers that we don't even know about. Your online dealings can leave a "paper" trail that is almost impossible to shred.

So how do you keep private files and emails ... well ... private? It's not easy, but there are steps you can take to protect your computer, your Internet connection and your files. Here are the best ways to keep your online files private:

Cloud Storage/Sharing: The main problem with the way that Petraeus and his mistress Paula Broadwell communicated is that it was far from secure. Yes, they used pseudonyms and a "dropbox" for drafts of emails without sending them, which might seem like a sly way to communicate. But sites like Gmail keep a record of the IP addresses from the people using their services, so the FBI could easily track down who was using the account. Plus, draft folders in email clients can easily be accessed if you know the password. As long as they have solid reasoning, any investigators can get all of that information under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

A better solution would have been to use a secure cloud storage/sharing program. The key word here is secure. Some of these cloud storage services have better privacy protection than others. Take, for example, Spideroak, a service that focuses heavily on security and also uses triple-encryption when uploading your files. Spideroak doesn't record users' passwords, which means no one except the user knows it, and makes it nearly impossible to access files unless you are the user. Of course, if you lose your password, you lose your files, but if privacy is your main concern, it's one of your best options.

Security Software: We all know that security software can protect you from viruses and malware, but did you know that some security software can actually limit outside access to your computer and files?

Many of the more advanced Internet security software suites include firewalls, which help limit access to your computer from the Internet. Firewalls basically act like a bouncer at a club; only those on the guest list are invited in. If any suspicious source address is trying to connect to your computer, a good firewall will block it.

The top security software suites, like Norton and Kaspersky, also provide online password protection in their software. These features encrypt your login information and protect against keylogging software, which records your keystrokes to find out your passwords. And a new feature popping up this year in security software suites is secure browsing, which lets you open a browser window in a completely secluded environment, making it that much more difficult for any outside software to access your information.

While nothing is going to keep your online activities completely private -- especially if law enforcement has sufficient reason to search your online files -- these tips are a big step in keeping your files, emails and chats as private as possible.