We all enjoy privacy in our personal matters. But when it comes to our cyber life, we hardly care whether we are being spied or tracked. Why is it so?
Most people in our country believe that working in a secluded room with a personal computer is all they need to maintain privacy. Well… the actual situation out there in cyberspace is quite grave and you might just turn out to be an arbitrarily chosen victim.
There has been much hype recently with the news of NSA spying on all our activities. Let us get into the details of what is actually taking place.
What is NSA?
The National Security Agency (NSA) is a U.S. intelligence agency responsible for, as Wikipedia points out, “global monitoring, collection, decoding, translation and analysis of information and data for foreign intelligence”.
It also protects the U.S. government’s communications and information systems against penetration and network warfare.
The Terrific Revelation
The mass surveillance was first leaked from NSA by Edward Snowden, an American computer professional.
It reveals that the US government, with assistance from major telecommunications carriers, has engaged in a gigantic illegal dragnet of extracting domestic communication records of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001. This was first reported by the press and discovered by the public in late 2005. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been struggling since then, to stop it and restore government surveillance programs back into the scope of law and the Constitution.
The Technology Behind This Man-Hunt
Here’s how you are getting trapped and tracked…
When you send an email or otherwise use the internet, the data travels from your computer, through telecommunication companies’ wires and fiber optics networks, to your intended recipient. To snatch these communications, the government has installed certain devices called “fiber-optic splitters” in many of the main telecommunication junction points in the United States (like the AT&T facility in San Francisco). These splitters surprisingly make exact copies of the data passing through them. While one stream is directed to the government, the other stream is directed to your targeted recipient.
India- A Major Target
In the overall list of countries victimized by NSA spying programs, India stands at fifth place, with billions of pieces of information extracted from its telephone and internet networks. According to top-secret documents provided to The Hindu by NSA whistleblower Snowden, the American agency carried out intelligence collecting activities in India using two major programs-
1. Boundless Informant : a data-mining system which keeps track of how many calls and emails are collected by the security agency
2. PRISM : a program which intercepts and accumulates actual content from the networks— through Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, YouTube and several other web-based services.
Though topnotch Indian officials have preferred to remain dismissive about the disclosures, with Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid even defending the U.S. surveillance program by saying that “it is not… actually snooping,” however, we find it’s not a myth that our privacy is at stake! It is absolutely the need of the hour to take some basic precautionary measures to obtain a vigilance-free cyber life.
10 Basic Steps To Give NSA a Hard Time
1. Secure Your Browsing Details
Browsing sensitive subjects without being tracked via cookies is possible and it is available on most Web Browsers –
1. In Firefox it’s called “Private Browsing.”
2. There’s an Incognito mode extension for Chrome.
3. Internet Explorer has an InPrivate browsing feature, as well as offers a way for people to selectively block sites from tracking.
4. Apple has had private browsing since OS X Lion.
However, this won’t block ads completely and there are further “do not track” measures that can be implemented using Abine’s Do Not Track browser add-on or AVG’s Do Not Track, which lets you customize what you’re blocking.
2. Use End-to-End Encryption
By using a conventional instant messaging service like Google, AOL, Yahoo or Microsoft, your chats may be accessible to the NSA through the PRISM program. But a chat extension called OTR (“Off The Record”) offers “end-to-end” encryption. The server only sees the encrypted version of your conversations, thwarting intrusion.
3. Switch Off the Java Script
4. Sustain Your Anonymity Online
Tor is an open-source program that enables anonymous communications online. It helps to avoid being tracked by websites and also allows users to access services that are otherwise blocked by their Internet Service Provider (ISP).
5. Use Strong Passwords
Your passwords need to be ridiculously long and haphazard however irritating it might seem to you. Passwords like “12345” or your name or may be just the word “password”, are the ones likely to be smoothly cracked. The foremost step towards security is having cryptic passwords.
6. Encrypt Your Hard Drives
The latest versions of Windows, Macs, iOS and Android have ways to encrypt your local storage. All you need is to simply turn it on. Without it, anyone with a few minutes access to your computer, tablet or smartphone can extract its contents, even if they don’t have your password.
7. Use Two-step Authentication
Google, Gmail, Twitter, Dropbox and many more have this facility. You need to turn on the two factor authentication service – where you type a password and a regularly changing confirmation number, shields you from attacks on web and cloud services. If it’s not available, tell the respective company about your desire to have it.
8. Avoid Attachments
One of the most common ways to get attacked by obtrusive malware is through email or through compromised websites. Browsers have geared up better at protecting you from the worst of the web, but files sent through email or downloaded from the Internet can still effectuate complete control over your computer. When you receive a file, double-check if it’s really what you are expecting.
9. Secure Your Internet Calls
An Internet telephony application called Silent Circle promises encryption for phone calls made online, unlike the frequently used ones like Skype and Facetime. It is an open-source software that is known to have no “backdoors”. Redphone is another similar app.
10. Prevent Cellphone Tracking
The Guardian reported that the NSA, besides collecting phone call information, also extracts geo-location information. Even when the phone is turned off it transmits signals that can be easily tracked down.
To stop your whereabouts being spied, remove the battery from your phone.
A new company called Koolspan have a TrustChip that provides encryption for texts, calls and other telephonic activities.
Get yourself armoured today as you never know what happens tomorrow! Although you cannot snap NSA entirely if it pounces upon you, but you can surely give them a tough time to track and crack you.