THE INTERNET AND YOUR PRIVACY
In light of Edward Snowden’s recent revelations that the NSA is spying on everything you do online, Ansh Patel gives you some tips on how to protect your Internet privacy and activity
As if it were right out of the pages of George Orwell’s 1984, the recent leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden on how US intelligence agency NSA might be spying on our online activities as minute as the content of our emails to tracking any Internet user’s activity through metadata – which means, in layman’s terms, your entire browsing activity to your location within the country is known to the US government. Even in India, a similar system called ICMS (Indian Central Monitoring System) was recently implemented. With the threat of government spying being very real, the Internet may no longer be the land of the free, but with the following measures you can certainly ensure that you preserve as much of your privacy as possible.
Turn on ‘cookie notices’ on your web browser
Cookies store details of your browsing, including username and password, and while they may seem innocuous, sites using cookies can sometimes track your activity – the pages you visit and the links you click. These ‘notices’ are enabled by most browsers like Netscape and Firefox which ensure that at the very least you are notified about how cookies are tracking.
Avoid sending sensitive info at workplaces
Workplaces and college computers are generally monitored and usually have limited encryption features, so using those machines to send out personal emails, credit card information or any private information isn’t the smartest thing to do.
Go for strong authentication methods
Enable two-step verification for emails. Most email services can associate your account with a device – the device you use most of the times to access your account (your laptop, mobile phone, tablet, etc). You can configure more than one device for your account. When someone signs in from a device and location not associated with your account, their access is blocked and you are immediately notified (via text message or an email to your alternative ID). This always keeps the real control of the account with the legitimate user, unless your phone or laptop itself gets stolen.
Check for encryption
For those who purchase frequently via online stores, we advise you to check for TLS-based encryption – signified by a green lock on the address bar – when entering your credit card details. Such encryption ensures that the sensitive data between your PC and the site’s server doesn’t get diverted by some other user (usually called a “Man in the Middle” attack).
Smoke bomb the spies!
Surveillance can come from any source – government, industry or an individual. The safest way to ensure the data that leaves your computer doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to use encryption. Programmes like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP, available at www.pgpi.org) encode your data in a hard-to-crack code and send them via an anonymous encryption “tunnel”, making it impossible for hackers to trace the data back to its user.
Security starts from home
The household Internet is usually run via a DSL/broadband line which uses limited security features, so be wary of leaving your PC on and connected to the Internet for long. Even if you leave the PC idle, it is susceptible to attacks from hackers on the lookout for low-security DSL computers and can gain access to your files and even ‘hijack’ your PC to act as a proxy and direct attacks elsewhere. Firewalls are your best friends – always keep them on and regularly update them. If you use Windows, the default firewall is quite decent.
Reveal only what you *have* to
Security starts from your own understanding of how the Internet works. When a discussion forum asks you for your address or marital status while you are signing up, you need not give away that information. Look out for mandatory fields, generally marked by a red asterisk (*) and only fill in the details you absolutely have to. Giving out more information can only hurt you because anything you do on the Internet is permanent and it can always be traced back to you. So think before you act!
As stated by Bruce Schneir, absolute security is an illusion in today’s world, but discretion and common sense can still preserve the last shreds of privacy. At the end of the day, no matter what you do, Big Brother is always watching you!
“There’s really no such thing as security in the abstract. Security can only be defined in relation to something else. You’re secure from something or against something.” – Bruce Schneir, Renowned cryptographer
NO-BRAINER INTERNET SECURITY TIPS
* Do not reply to spammers. No, you have NOT won a million dollars and no Nigerian prince wants to leave his inheritance for you.
* Bogus contests can easily infiltrate into your social network accounts. You’re better off safe than trying to win “50 free iPads”.
* Do not write down your passwords. Someone is bound to eventually stumble onto it. Safest place to store them? Your own mind. If you HAVE to record them somewhere because you’re scared you’ll forget them, get a password managing software in your computer and store your passwords there. Don’t forget the software’s password, though!
* Always take a moment to read the privacy policies of social networking sites and utilise their privacy settings to balance your browsing and security needs.
Volume 3 Issue 3