We’ve recently seen that digital privacy doesn’t really exist – a case in point being the recent NSA leaks from whistle-blower Ed Snowden. It’s been shown that Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and more companies have all given direct server access not only to various US intelligence agencies, but also to the federal government at large. While using these services, plus others like Skype, YouTube, and so on, your data has been compromised and if it is deemed strategically necessary, can be used against you.
Whether you have done anything wrong or not, you are being monitored and recorded regardless. This includes passwords, banking activity, searches, and emails. The aforementioned agencies can access anything anyone would need to build a complete online profile of you: how you live, how you think, who you are. Needless to say, this is very powerful data gathering. The goal of the intelligence agencies is Total Information Awareness, and it will be used to manage and control populations.
In light of this, I have compiled a few tips to help you maintain your integrity and privacy while on the Internet. Of course this is not a complete list of tools out there, but the ones we’ve listed are quite useful and may well give you some approximation of peace while browsing.
1. Use StartPage.com for all of your searches. They bill themselves as the world’s most private search engine, and they allow you to search securely and anonymously through Google. They do not share or store any personal information about you. If you want to access pages through a proxy, this can be done quickly and easily. StartPage functionality can be added to your favorite browser for all searches started through the address bar. If you use Google’s main page, Yahoo, Bing, Ask or any of the other major search engines, the things you search for are linked to your IP address and are used to create an inclusive profile about your online activity. The government has the ability to know everything you’ve been interested in and much more. It would certainly behoove you to protect yourself while online!
2. To protect your identity, use an Anonymizer such as Tor. Tor is the name of both the free software and the open network that helps defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens privacy, personal freedom, confidential business activities and relationships as well.
Tor protects you by using a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world. These people put such a number of “hops” in between where you are and where you want to go that it is impossible for someone watching your Internet connection to learn what sites you visit. Tor also prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. Tor works with most existing applications, including instant messaging clients, remote login, and of course web browsers as well.
Individuals can use Tor for socially sensitive communication: chat rooms and web forums for rape and abuse survivors, or people with illnesses. Journalists can use Tor to communicate safely with whistle-blowers and dissidents. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can use Tor to allow their workers to connect to their home website while they’re in a foreign country, without notifying everybody nearby that they’re working with that organization. Activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recommend Tor as a mechanism for maintaining civil liberties online. Corporations use Tor as a safe way to conduct competitive analysis, and to protect sensitive procurement patterns from eavesdroppers.They also use it to replace traditional VPNs, which reveal the exact amount and timing of communication.
You can also use it to access sites that your ISP has blocked or banned. Please keep in mind, though, that if you use Tor to access sites that personally identify you, like Facebook, your ability to remain anonymous is compromised. To get started quickly, download the Tor Browser Bundle. The whole process may require you to change a few of your browsing habits, but the peace of mind you gain in return will be well worth it.
3. Like social networking? Consider using a secure and private social network like Pidder. Pidder is a social network, but a private one that offers the ability to remain anonymous, and uses encrypted communication for all connections. Pidder allows you to stay in touch with family and other loved ones in ways that cannot be compromised. It may not ever have the userbase of Facebook, but it is a viable alternative for more secure social networking.
4. Make sure your wireless connection is secured. Use a firewall as well. It is essential to protect your inbound and your outbound network traffic. There are several options available. Alas we cannot guarantee the viability of all these programs, but we can recommend Little Snitch for Mac users. If you’re a Windows user, you might try Outpost. The important thing is to be able to see what sites and services are trying to send or receive data over your connection. The tighter your firewall rules are, the better. Also, keep your computer clean with some kind of anti-spyware software, and of course minimize your use of dodgy sites.
5. If you use Facebook at all, install the browser plug-in called DoNotTrackMe. This is because it has been confirmed that Facebook tracks your online activity … even when you are logged out. You don’t have to do anything once you’ve added it to your browser, and the installation takes seconds. The program will count all blocked attempts near your address bar. And because all trackers are rejected (not just Facebook), sites may load up to 4 times faster than you’re used to.
6. Delete cookies regularly. Almost every time you visit a web site, you download a cookie from that site. This cookie is usually used to collect and track data about you, the sites you visit, etc. Therefore, frequently deleting cookies and temporary internet files from your browser is necessary. CCleaner, from Piriform Software, is an effective way to do this.
7. When you aren’t using it, cover up or disconnect your webcam. It can be secretly activated even without you being aware of it. Intelligence services and hackers have the ability to do this. Therefore, effective countermeasures are extremely important. Keep in mind that your webcam can be done without the indicator light coming on. You won’t even know that you’re being recorded or watched. This is why we recommend covering up your webcam when you’re not actually using it.
Why take the risk? While you are in your bedroom or office, do you really want the government to have the ability to spy on you? This same thing can be done with cellphone cameras and microphones, too. The only way your phone loses the ability to track and record you is if you take the battery out. This is another reason why many new smartphones come with internal batteries.
8. Use a secure mail service like HushMail or other encrypted email. Of course, communicating via email is a significant part of our everyday lives. Webmail services like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail are not secure, and your data is therefore compromised. Switching over to a secure service such as HushMail can be quite valuable.
You may also learn to use Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), which is a way to send files and encrypted email that only the intended recipient or a trusted third party can open and view. In brief, PGP uses public-private key cryptography, where you will give out your public key to trusted recipients. Messages can only be decrypted by using your private key file, that you keep safe, and the sender’s public key. You can even encrypt files so that only one specific person can open them.
Using PGP takes some technical knowledge, but it can be very useful for those who want to communicate securely. It’s well worth learning. There are some good YouTube videos to help you learn how to use this system.
In short, be smart and safe about how you communicate online. By taking no precautionary measures, you are setting yourself up to be recorded and monitored at all times. If you engage in secret or illegal activities, don’t discuss these through Hotmail or Skype! Be aware of what you type and consider the consequences if the data was ever made public.
Finally, please be aware that the tips above are by no means an exhaustive list. They are means solely as a way to start boosting your privacy.
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