One of the trends we’ve seen is how, as the word of the NSA’s spying has spread, more and more ordinary people want to know how (or if) they can defend themselves from surveillance online. But where to start?
The bad news is: if you’re being personally targeted by a powerful intelligence agency like the NSA, it’s very, very difficult to defend yourself. The good news, if you can call it that, is that much of what the NSA is doing is mass surveillance on everybody. With a few small steps, you can make that kind of surveillance a lot more difficult and expensive, both against you individually, and more generally against everyone.
Here’s ten steps you can take to make your own devices secure. This isn’t a complete list, and it won’t make you completely safe from spying. But every step you take will make you a little bit safer than average. And it will make your attackers, whether they’re the NSA or a local criminal, have to work that much harder.
Use end-to-end encryption
We know the NSA has been working to undermine encryption, but experts like Bruce Schneier who have seen the NSA documents feel that encryption is still “your friend”. And your best friends remain open source systems that don’t share your secret key with others, are open to examination by security experts, and encrypt data all the way from one end of a conversation to the other: from your device to the person you’re chatting with.
The easiest tool that achieves this end-to-end encryption is off-the-record (OTR) messaging, which gives instant messaging clients end-to-end encryption capabilities (and you can use it over existing services, such as Google Hangout and Facebook chat).
Install it on your own computers, and get your friends to install it too. When you’ve done that, look into PGP–it’s tricky to use, but used well it’ll stop your email from being an open book to snoopers.
Encrypt as much communications as you can
Even if you can’t do end-to-end, you can still encrypt a lot of your Internet traffic. If you use EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere browser addon for Chrome or Firefox, you can maximise the amount of web data you protect by forcing websites to encrypt webpages whenever possible. Use a virtual private network (VPN) when you’re on a network you don’t trust, like a cybercafe.
Encrypt your hard drive
The latest version of Windows, Macs, iOS and Android all have ways to encrypt your local storage. Turn it on. Without it, anyone with a few minutes physical access to your computer, tablet or smartphone can copy its contents, even if they don’t have your password.
Strong passwords, kept safe
Passwords these days have to be ridiculously long to be safe against crackers. That includes the password to email accounts, and passwords to unlock devices, and passwords to web services. If it’s bad to re-use passwords, and bad to use short passwords, how can you remember them all? Use a password manager. Even write down your passwords and keeping them in your wallet is safer than re-using the same short memorable password — at least you’ll know when your wallet is stolen. You can create a memorable strong master password using a random word system like that described at diceware.com.
“Tor Stinks”, this slide leaked from GCHQ says. That shows much the intelligence services are worried about it. Tor is an the open source program that protects your anonymity online by shuffling your data through a global network of volunteer servers. If you install and use Tor, you can hide your origins from corporate and mass surveillance.
You’ll also be showing that Tor is used by everyone, not just the “terrorists” that GCHQ claims.
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