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Fighting Back

Date: 2014-02-12
Tags: nsa encryption security

Many groups have designated today The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance. In addition to contacting your legislators and letting them know that you are not OK with how the NSA has handled itself, there are many things you can do that can keep you safe and make it (potentially) more difficult for you to be spied on. I say potentially, because in the end, if the person you’re having a conversation or sharing data with leaks it, it’s leaked. That said, here are some ways that the average person can start the process of protecting themselves:

  • Using Free/Open Source Software such as LibreOffice Office Suite, Firefox Web Browser, and Thunderbird Mail Client. Being open-source means that many people continually keep an eye on what the software does and are able to legally go forward publicly if there are any questionable changes, the same is not always true of close-source software.
  • When using Firefox, there are a handful of extensions I highly recommend using daily. HTTPS Everywhere that will attempt to use encrypted connects between you and any site you visit without you having to do anything. NoScript which will disable scripts on webpages, along with other dangerous actions. NoScript can sometimes cause webpages to not work 100% properly, but it’s fairly simple to remedy it; here is a video that can help with any problems you may encounter.
  • Using GnuPG and Enigmail for Thunderbird to allow you to easily encrypt and/or sign messages and files. Shoot me an email if you need any help or visit the nice people at “##crypto”:irc://irc.freenode.com/##crypto on the Freenode IRC network.
  • Using the Tor anonymity network allows you to browse the web anonymously. They’ve really done a stand-up job and it no long is difficult to get up and running. The Browser Bundle is basically modified Firefox browser with some additionally autoconfig software to connect to the network and disable many things that could give away your identity. Contrary to popular belief, Tor and anonymity in general are not a bad thing, and like phones and the internet have many good qualities. There are many ways to get help if you have trouble getting tor to work, one of the most usfule being the OFTC IRC channel, “#tor”:irc://irc.oftc.net:6667/#tor.
  • Apps such as TextSecure that will encrypt your messages to other TextSecure users (get your friends invovled!)

Some of this may seem scary at first, but just remember this: None of the above will leave you in a place where you can’t get help or you hurt your computer. Feel free to play around! The more we use technology to our benefit, the less easy it is for us to be tracked and spied on.

Also, this is just a jumping off point. There are many other projects out there that can help to keep you secure and anonymous online. Some, like Bitcoin require a lot of co√∂peration from many other people. Some, like Mumble require a little setup, but afterwards are very simple to use. Find your local geek or email me if you have any questions or are curious about other projects out there. (Note: I’m not an end-all-be-all resource, but I can be a jumping off point.)

The important thing is to start thinking about your anonymity and privacy. My wife noticed that an app she got to track her walks for her own use was also sending them as Facebook posts. She disabled that right away because she didn’t want people to know where she was all the time and disabled that feature. (She did decide to allow the app to post to a work-out tracking site that doesn’t make that information public, but it was a choice she made and she understands who she is trusting with this information). Now she makes sure she understands better what an app does with her data before using it.

Simply thinking about what you’re giving who is probably the biggest and most important step a non-techy can make.