Ten Steps You Can Take Right Now Against Internet Surveillance

[First, the bad news], 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 are 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.

  1. 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. (OTR isn’t the same as Google Chat’s option to “Go off the record”; you’ll need extra software to get end-to-end encryption.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Use Tor. “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.
  6. Turn on two-factor (or two-step) authentication. Google and Gmail has it; Twitter has it; Dropbox has it. Two factor authentication, where you type a password and a regularly changed confirmation number, helps protect you from attacks on web and cloud services. When available, turn it on for the services you use. If it’s not available, tell the company you want it.
  7. Don’t click on attachments. The easiest ways to get intrusive malware onto your computer is through your email, or through compromised websites. Browsers are getting better at protecting you from the worst of the web, but files sent by email or downloaded from the Net can still take complete control of your computer. Get your friends to send you information in text; when they send you a file, double-check it’s really from them.
  8. Keep software updated, and use anti-virus software. The NSA may be attempting to compromise Internet companies (and we’re still waiting to see whether anti-virus companies deliberately ignore government malware), but on the balance, it’s still better to have the companies trying to fix your software than have attackers be able to exploit old bugs.
  9. Keep extra secret information extra secure. Think about the data you have, and take extra steps to encrypt and conceal your most private data. You can use TrueCrypt to separately encrypt a USB flash drive. You might even want to keep your most private data on a cheap netbook, kept offline and only used for the purposes of reading or editing documents.
  10. Be an ally. If you understand and care enough to have read this far, we need your help. To really challenge the surveillance state, you need to teach others what you’ve learned, and explain to them why it’s important. Install OTR, Tor and other software for worried colleagues, and teach your friends how to use them. Explain to them the impact of the NSA revelations. Ask them to sign up to Stop Watching Us and other campaigns against bulk spying. Run a Tor node, or hold a cryptoparty. They need to stop watching us; and we need to start making it much harder for them to get away with it.

Ten Steps You Can Take Right Now Against Internet Surveillance | Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Decline of Wikipedia

The sixth most widely used website in the world is not run anything like the others in the top 10. It is not operated by a sophisticated corporation but by a leaderless collection of volunteers who generally work under pseudonyms and habitually bicker with each other.

[...]

Because there is no other free information source like it, many online services rely on Wikipedia. Look something up on Google or ask Siri a question on your iPhone, and you’ll often get back tidbits of information pulled from the encyclopedia and delivered as straight-up facts.

Yet Wikipedia and its stated ambition to “compile the sum of all human knowledge” are in trouble. The volunteer workforce that built the project’s flagship, the English-language Wikipedia—and must defend it against vandalism, hoaxes, and manipulation—has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking.

The Decline of Wikipedia: Even As More People Than Ever Rely on It, Fewer People Create It | MIT Technology Review.

Freedom of the Press Foundation Launches SecureDrop, an Open-Source Submission Platform for Whistleblowers

Freedom of the Press Foundation has taken charge of the DeadDrop project, an open-source whistleblower submission system originally coded by the late transparency advocate Aaron Swartz. In the coming months, the Foundation will also provide on-site installation and technical support to news organizations that wish to run the system, which has been renamed “SecureDrop.”

Freedom of the Press Foundation Launches SecureDrop, an Open-Source Submission Platform for Whistleblowers – Boing Boing.

Joining the Surveillance Society: New Internet Users in an Age of Tracking

From a New America Foundation report:

Recent digital inclusion policies that aim to increase digital literacy of new Internet and computer users, promote civic engagement, and improve economic development do not currently address the privacy needs of new users. This paper presents an in-depth look at surveillance and privacy problems faced by individuals who turn to digital literacy organizations for training and Internet access, including low income individuals, people of color, immigrants, the elderly, and non-English speakers.

These individuals are coming online without adequate skills, know-how, and social support to confront digitally enabled government surveillance and corporate intrusions of personal privacy.

The paper also details the challenges, such as limited resources, time, and expertise, that providers face when teaching users how to stay safe online.

New Internet users should not have to choose between going online and feeling safe, secure, and free from surveillance.

Now, more than ever, digital inclusion policies need to pay greater attention to developing providers’ expertise and capacity to handle privacy and surveillance concerns of new Internet users. Privacy advocates and developers also have a role to play. Expanding “digital literacy” to include privacy education requires that privacy protecting tools become easier to use. Until then, the benefits of digital inclusion are at odds with the potential harms wrought by a surveillance society.

Joining the Surveillance Society? | NewAmerica.org.

Committee to Protect Journalists Report Gauges the Press Freedom Crisis in the US

The Committee to Protect Journalists just released their first ever report on press freedom in the US. For those who have followed the administration’s policies, court cases and actions related to leaks and the press, the report doesn’t contain a lot of new information.

What it does is weave together each of the cases and strategies the administration has pursued, surfacing key themes and illustrating that these examples are not aberrations, but part of a coordinated strategy.

Presenting this bigger picture reframes the debate over press freedom in America and reminds us that we need to demand a major course correction.

Committee to Protect Journalists Report Gauges the Press Freedom Crisis | Free Press.