Friday, January 10, 2014

A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Online Life More Private in 2014


On March 12 of last year, Senator Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper point blank if the NSA collected bulk data on Americans. In front of a Senate Intelligence committee, Clapper replied, “No, sir… not wittingly.” Roughly three months later, Edward Snowden took a flight to Hong Kong and dumped a shitload of NSA secrets, simultaneously proving Clapper a liar and pushing the word "Orwellian" closer toward redundancy.

Despite the critical mass of outrage since then, nothing has changed—NSA surveillance has gone on unabated, and will continue to do so at least until the end of March. So if you believe that your data is now safe on your laptop or smartphone thanks to Glenn Greenwald's editorial crusade, you are wrong. It is not. As Anton Kapela, a security expert at world-leading data storage company 5NINES, said, the only real privacy is in disconnecting. “There is a way to be private and secure, but at substantial cost and limited practicality,” Kapela says. “Minimize all use of the internet on laptop, desktop, and mobile, because you're 100 percent screwed.”

Kapela should know. In 2008, at the hacking conference DEF CON, he and colleague Alex Pilosov presented a hack that exploited a basic internet protocol called Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). The hack would allow an eavesdropper—any eavesdropper—to monitor the unencrypted traffic flowing to and from your computer. As WIRED reported at the time, “The method conceivably could be used for corporate espionage, nation-state spying or even by intelligence agencies looking to mine internet data without needing the cooperation of ISPs.”

But cyberspace doesn't have to be so bleak. If 2013 was the year of the whistle-blower waking the world up to vast state surveillance, then 2014 should be the year of encryption and privacy. After Edward Snowden's NSA revelations, several tools aiming to help you privatize your online life popped up, from Lockbox’s encrypted cloud to Crypstagram, which allows you to upload images that contain encrypted messages. Elsewhere, Wickr is utilizing the spy film/Snapchat method—providing a service that allows you to send private messages that self-destruct—while just last month, Instagram tried to capture the privacy zeitgeist with its Instagram Direct private messaging tool.

Until the next generation of privacy apps arrive, there are a few things you can do to duck the *Orwellian* gaze of government, tech companies, and advertisers. We asked a few security and internet experts for tips on how you can make your online life more private in 2014. They responded with a range of tactics that anyone could implement with moderate ease. Here they are.

Encrypt Your Web Browsing

The simple act of browsing, whether on a computer or mobile device, opens a whole can of privacy worms. By default, search engines and browsers amass user data—everything from cookies and searches to passwords and download history is fair game. Even if this cache of information is regularly deleted, hackers, NSA agents, Google, Bing, and their fleet of advertisers will have access to everything. The moment you enter a search term, it's out in the world and it’s not coming back. This reality needs to be understood before anything else.

And so free internet advocate Elizabeth Stark, creator of the recently launched Kickstarter-meets-XPRIZE platform called Threshold, believes everyone should be using HTTPS Everywhere. A collaboration between the Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, HTTPS Everywhere encrypts your communications over the web, transforming every standard HTTP page into a more secure HTTPS page. This means greater privacy and security when you're browsing the web.

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