There is no hiding from Prism

18 06 2013

by AngryPanda

With the recent news about the US-government data mining all the silicon valley giants the internet is suddenly full of guides on how to protect your privacy. Ditch Google, use DuckDuckGo, get a VPN Tunnel, use encrypted cloud services. Unless you want to turn yourself into some sort of technophobe outcast with no connection to the rest of the world there is almost no way to avoid Prism. You can do all these things and be moderately secure but no matter what you will not be able to keep using the internet as we know it today. Now that I think about it that means my dad is save from Prism… anyway on to the rest of us.

If the news about the government now owning every single private email or chat conversation you had for years (and who would blame you?) it is time to ask yourself some tough questions:

  • Do you belong to Steve Job’s faithful cult of Apple users?
  • Do you actively use Facebook?
  • Do you use Smartphones and Tablets in your daily routine?

If your answer to any of the above questions is yes, then congratulations: you’re screwed. You gave up your privacy to huge cooperate players a long time ago and you did it in the political climate of the aftermath of 9/11 in which trading liberty for security and control is so en vogue you’d think it is the new black. The electronic footprint we all left is not going away and if any of us truly want to keep it from getting bigger we need to start the sort of paranoid nutter normal people in the office shake their heads at once they’re out of sight.

  • Are you willing to stop using main brand mobile communication tools starting with smartphones and tablets?
  • Are you willing to cut the chords Facebook has connected to your social life (and your spouse and your kids as those all help monitoring you too)?
  • Will install new email-clients, change services and learn how to use encrypted chat systems?

Yes? Well sorry its still not enough. You also need to ditch your phone service provider, hide yourself behind a VPN provider outside of the US and stop using mobile phones. Short of shutting yourself of from modern electronics nothing will prevent them from at least the basics of your daily routine. Remember the cage Gene Hackman used to hide in Enemy of the State and consider that the technology seen there might as well have been the stone age compared to the sheer amount of data available today.

enemyofthestate

Now assuming no one reading this wishes to become a hermit and build a cabin in the mountains there are a few things you can do to limit the tracks you leave, this will not hide no one completely but will at least protect your privacy a little bit. Some of this is the same advise you read all over the net right now but I’ll limit changes in electronic service to the things that are so easy you could fix them on your parent’s computer and still be reasonably sure they won’t screw it up. In order of priority:

  1. Be careful what you post on social networks. You don’t have to completely avoid using them but the less you tell about yourself the better. And try to avoid any service that wants to know your current location for anything.
  2. Which brings me to mobile devices. These things are the worst problems as they broadcast your location and activity step by step but on the other hand they are so essential in most modern lives you can’t just ditch them so they didn’t make it to number one. What you can do is limit your use, try to keep it for work or important stuff. You could even leave it at home sometimes. Contrary to what most people think the world will most likely not end if they can’t be reached for 30 minutes. Most important, do not use it to connect to social networks or other services unless you absolutely need those. The mix of these two is so explosive the rest of the data mining operation almost doesn’t matter in comparison.
  3. Change your web browser to Mozilla Firefox. The protection is small as your service provider can still log you activity but so is the effort. Firefox will import your bookmarks from your current Browser and is the source of half the innovations that made the others more user-friendly anyway. Its 2 minutes to install and maybe a day to get used to it. You won’t get a better effort to security ratio.
  4. Be anonymous as often as possible. A lot of sites let you use your existing Facebook account to log in with just one click. As a famous fish once said: “It’s a trap!” The moment you do this you tie all the information about you together. Get some spam email accounts, register with code/fake names on message boards and other sites where your real identity isn’t important.
  5. Get a firewall and virus protection from a non US-based company like Kaspersky. If you don’t want to be spied on it really helps to at least make sure the guy guarding your door is not subject to the spy’s laws.

All of the above is just fighting the symptoms though. The problem isn’t that our computers aren’t secure. The problem is a government so paranoid and in need of control it has declared the whole world a criminal suspect. This issue will not be solved by installing new software or throwing your cellphone of the next bridge. It will require you to get up and let the people in charge know that they’ve crossed a line and this madness has to stop.

Disclaimer: The author of this article uses Gmail, Facebook and has an iPhone so he had it coming as much as anyone else.

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