Uses This

1278 interviews since 2009

A picture of Riana Pfefferkorn
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Riana Pfefferkorn

Associate Director of Surveillance and Cybersecurity (Center for Internet and Society)

in lawyer, mac, security

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Riana Pfefferkorn. I'm the Associate Director of Surveillance and Cybersecurity at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. I research how law enforcement uses novel technologies to surveil people, what the potential security risks of those techniques are, and how they respond to technologies such as encryption that protect people's cybersecurity and privacy. I also push for more openness in the courts so that the general public and researchers like me can find out how law enforcement interprets existing laws or pushes for new laws to authorize the surveillance techniques they want to use, as the court proceedings where law enforcement asks a court for authorization are typically kept secret long after there's any need to do so.

What hardware do you use?

I use an Apple MacBook Pro. It's a few years old now but still chugging along. I have an iPhone 7 that was a gift from a friend who worked at Apple at the time. I have had good luck with getting smartphones for free from friends who've worked at the companies that make them. I've only ever bought one smartphone for myself in the past 10 years (a refurbished iPhone 5c). But I think my luck's about to run out. I should make more friends.

I like the iPhone but to this day, the Android Nexus One remains my favorite smartphone that I've ever used. I had it for five years, way past when I should've still had it. But phones these days are too large for my petite lady hands. Smartphone designers really screw over half the population by building phones that are too damn big for many women to hold and use comfortably in one hand. This answer turned into kind of a rant, didn't it?

And what software?

Here's where I can get on my professional soapbox! I use 1Password as a password manager. It generates a unique strong password for every service I use, so I don't have to reuse passwords or try to remember "correct horse battery staple" for every service. 1Password costs four bucks a month but it's worth it. I use Signal and WhatsApp to text people, because those are both end-to-end encrypted, meaning nobody but me and my interlocutor can read the messages we send each other, not even the makers of the app. And I use the Privacy Badger extension for Chrome, made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It helps keep you from being tracked as you move around the web.

The great thing about making all these recommendations is that a bunch of people who are more paranoid than I am will write in and immediately tell me, and you, how wrong we are because we're not using even more security-minded software. But I find the foregoing products usable, and usability is a key consideration for security software. It's so much easier to keep your records and communications secure than it used to be, usability-wise. For my particular situation, I don't need to be hyper-paranoid. Yet.

What would be your dream setup?

A carrier pigeon, toting telegrams from home and a copy of the Sunday New York Times, that arrives once a week to the lounge chair on a beach in an undisclosed tropical location where I'd be reading books while taking an extended break from the Internet.