How To Protect Yourself Against The Snoops

June 23, 2013
2 mins read

With the controversy around the Prism scandal raging, Pat Pilcher suggests a few canny ways to remain invisible online.

computer_zoom_generic_295WITH PRISM COVERAGE flooding tech media like a horde of zombies from a bad B-grade movie, an interesting side-effect of the publicity surrounding Prism has been a growing amount of emphasis being placed on communications security.
Now it looks like an arms race has started as a growing number of people search for ways of keeping their information out of the hands of the NSA and other snoops. Thankfully, keeping personal data safe isn’t all that difficult or costly, as many options are either affordable or free. Here’s how:

kim-mega-dotcom-reuters-670Launched amidst a blaze of publicity, Kim Dotcom’s file storage service features robust encryption. In effect this means that even Mega don’t know what files they’re storing. Best of all, being outside of the US, Mega is also not subject to Prism snooping.
According to Mega, they’ve also seen a sizeable upswing in subscriptions since the Prism scandal broke and are looking at adding additional server capacity to cope with growing demand.

Silent Circle
silent-circle-0Silent Circle is a subscription-based encryption service for Android phones. It makes securing mobile voice calls dead easy by scrambling your voice into meaningless noise that’s all but unintelligible without the right decryption keys.
Silent Circle is open source, and has also been audited to make sure there are no sneaky “back doors.” You can pick up a copy from the Android Play Store.

Off The Record
secure_email-265x300If you’re a big fan of instant messaging services such as Google Hangouts, Microsoft Messenger and Skype, then recorded log files of your chats are probably able to be accessed by nosey third parties. At least that is until you start using Off The Record (which is often referred to as OTR), an encrypted protocol that provides strong encryption for instant messaging conversations.
Just in case you were wondering, Gmail’s Google Chat also has an ‘off the record’ option, but it’s not encrypted off the record messaging. Google simply uses the term ‘off the record’ to mean that chats logs are not retrievable by other end users, so the chats could in theory be logged.
Gmail aside, because OTR conversations are encrypted, unauthorised third parties will only ever see a jumble of encrypted data instead of actual conversations. Getting set up with Off The Record requires you (and the person you’re chatting with) to use a compatible chat client or plugin and best of all, OTR is free.

imagesTor lets you surf without revealing your internet address or other information that can identify you. It works by bouncing your traffic around randomly selected proxy servers before it reaches its final destination. Nicer still, Tor is dead easy to get set up. Simply download the free Tor Browser Bundle, a version of the Firefox browser that automatically connects to the Tor network for anonymous web browsing.

What You Can’t Hide
Although encryption services such as Mega or technologies such as OTR and Silent Circle can prevent unauthorised parties from snooping your conversations, it’s practically impossible to hide your metadata.
This is probably why the NSA were hovering up metadata (an example of metadata would be not what you said during a phone conversation but who you’ve called and the duration of your call), as it can be as telling as the content of actual calls and instant messages. For example, calls to an airline or even an 0900 number will often tell anyone eavesdropping on you pretty much all they need to know. PAT PILCHER

Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

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