Security

GNOME privacy options give users even more desktop security

Privacy is simple to manage in the recent iterations of the GNOME desktop. Jack Wallen walks you through the GNOME Privacy tool.

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Image: Jack Wallen

Security has never been more important. Any time you open a file, you leave a trail behind. When you delete files, they remain in the trash until you manually purge them. Your computer can even use certain services to help websites and apps pin down your location. And your machine's screen lock setup may not suit your needs. For anyone using a PC for business, these things can be crucial, as sensitive data comes in all forms.

GNOME is helping you to improve security by wiping away that breadcrumb trail. Instead of having to manage these issues in various places such as display settings, file manager, and location settings, the developers of GNOME put these security-centric settings in one location: the GNOME Privacy tool.

What you can do with it

With the new GNOME Privacy tool (which has been refined in GNOME 3.18), you can configure the following by going to Settings | Privacy:

  • Screen Lock
  • Usage & History
  • Purge Trash & Temporary Files
  • Location Services

There is no need to install third-party software — it's all there...ready to help.

SEE: Tech Pro Research's Privacy Policy

How does it work?

1. Click into the Privacy section of Settings, and you'll see a user-friendly window (Figure A).

2. Click on any entry, and configure it to your needs.

Figure A

Figure A
Image: Jack Wallen

The GNOME Privacy tool is ready to go.

3. Open the Screen Lock section. This is where you can enable/disable the Automatic Screen Lock, determine the amount of time before the screen goes blank, and set whether notifications are displayed in the lock screen (Figure B). I highly recommend enabling the screen lock and disabling notifications. With notifications enabled, it could be possible that someone might spy sensitive information...even when your screen is locked.

Figure B

Figure B
Image: Jack Wallen

The GNOME Privacy tool's Screen Lock settings.

4. Click in the Usage & History section. This is where you can set up GNOME to either retain or not retain your file usage history. This is very important, especially to users that are seriously concerned about privacy. By default, Privacy will be set to retain history forever (Figure C). You can opt to retain file history for Forever, 1 Day, 7 Days, or 30 Days. If you opt to enable the retention of file history, I recommend setting it to the shortest number of days that you can work with.

Figure C

Figure c
Image: Jack Wallen

Configuring privacy for file history.

5. Click the Purge Trash & Temporary Files section. This setting can automatically delete files from your trash when you forget to do so. By default, this is disabled (Figure D). I recommend enabling this setting, especially if the computer in question is used for work.

There are no options for the purging of trash. This means that, if enabled, when you delete a file, it is completely removed. If disabled, when you delete a file, it goes to the Trash folder until it is manually purged by right-clicking the Trash folder and clicking Empty Trash.

Figure D

Figure D
Image: Jack Wallen
Setting up how GNOME purges your trash.

Another setting in this section is how temporary files are managed. You can enable the automatic purging of temporary files. In some cases, these temporary files can increase the performance of an application by caching data. When you purge these temp files, the application(s) will have to, once again, cache the data. Those temporary files can (in certain cases) be considered security risks. I recommend enabling the purging of temporary files and setting the frequency to the fewest number of days you can work with.

Finally, you can enable/disable the Location Services. With this enabled, applications (especially websites) can track your location. If this is a point of contention for you, make sure it is disabled. By default, Location Services is turned off.

Usage of the privacy tool may vary

If it's a business laptop, you'll want to take the time to carefully set up GNOME Privacy to prevent others from gaining access to sensitive data. If it's a home computer, you should still considering going through the settings, as there will still be sensitive data retained on the machine.

Have the developers of GNOME gone far enough with security, or does the desktop need more? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Also see

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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