Your use of the internet isn’t as safe as you thought it was. Has the latest WikiLeaks release of thousands of pages of internal CIA discussions about hacking techniques gotten you worried? The transcripts show that CIA hackers could get into Apple iPhones, Google’s Android OS and other gadgets to gather data before encryption software could secure it. This leak has renewed concerns about privacy and security while using consumer electronics.
In case you’re concerned enough to do something about your own electronics usage, here’s a list of privacy tools endorsed by Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who blew the top off the US’ surveillance program.
Signal is an encrypted instant messaging smartphone app. I know what you’re thinking – the WikiLeaks report says the CIA could get information even before Signal’s encryption could take effect. But if you stay up-to-date with your OS’ security patches, Signal still remains useful. The WikiLeaks data doesn’t show that encrypted chat apps have been cracked. And if your OS is buggy, no level of encryption can help anyway.
So, you’ve probably heard of TOR if you’ve heard the words “dark web” and “deep web” anywhere and it sounds like some sort of confusing technical jargon, right? Well, TOR stands for The Onion Router, which basically (like an onion) adds layers to the requests you’re sending out through your browser. So when you ask your browser to bring up a website, the request doesn’t go straight to the site, it gets routed through several different countries so that your location stays private. Journalists, activists and those using the internet from countries where free speech is restricted, use TOR regularly for safety, not just privacy. But, yeah, TOR also gets used to access the dark net and the deep web, which is a whole other story.
Speaking of TOR, the operating system that Snowden recommends is the open source Tails OS or The Amnesic Incognito Live System. The name says it all. Literally. The idea behind Tails is that it works from a live USB drive and leaves no digital footprint on the machine that you plug it into. The OS allows you to use the internet anonymously and uses encryption tools for your files, emails and other usage. Installing it is complicated, though, making this strictly a tool for the most paranoid user or for those most in need of security and privacy.
Of all the tools on this list, HTTPS Everywhere is probably the easiest to use. It’s a browser extension that you can easily add to Chrome, Firefox or Opera. In simple terms, HTTPS allows your communication over a network through a secure channel. It’s just an added layer of security over Hypertext Transfer Protocol or HTTP. So if a website supports it, this extension will automatically make the website use HTTPS, making your browsing more secure.
And if you’re a journalist or an Edward Snowden-inspired whistleblower type, then this tool is what you’ve been looking for. It’s a platform that securely facilitates communication over the TOR network. SecureDrop sites are only accessible in the TOR network, so this isn’t something you can just pull up on Chrome.
Ad-blockers (We’re Not Kidding)
But take heart, because if you don’t see yourself using any of these tools, Snowden’s got one more suggestion. Use an ad-blocker. And we know most of you use one of those.
So, less spending and greater security. Two birds, one stone.
Now, all of these tools are for the user that’s really looking for some seriously secure communication online. But fair warning, none of these are entirely foolproof. Even with these tools, there’s a chance of your security being breached by a hacker who knows what s/he’s doing. So if you regularly send sensitive information over the interwebz, maybe it’s time to rethink how secure you think your communications are.