Do you feel the need for more privacy now that you know that Big Brother has his beady eye on you 24/7? If so, you may find this article of some use.
Note. The recommendations put forward by the author of this article are his own personal choices and in no way reflect the views of those associated with this website. Readers must therefore make up their own minds whether to accept or reject these recommendations. — John Scott Montecristo, Editor
For a long time now I have been deeply concerned about the invasion of privacy as recently brought to light by Edward Snowden’s shocking NSA revelations. This has prompted me to write this article. As a specialist in IT with many years’ experience in the field of computer science, I thought it might be useful if I were to address this important question that most internet users are now bound to be asking: how can I protect myself online and obtain maximum privacy and security?
There are several components to online safety and I shall deal with them one by one. Let me state at the outset that the ideal of absolute 100 percent privacy and security is virtually impossible to attain, given the high degree of sophisticated surveillance nowadays. However, there are ways of making it much harder for Big Brother to invade your privacy. Hopefully, an effective barrier between you and this persistent pest might be erected. My aim is to help you to keep Big Brother at bay.
Here are 20 tips you might like to consider:
1. Computer and Operating Systems. If you are using Microsoft Windows, any version, please don’t read any further. Nothing I say here will be able to help you. You have passed the point of no return. No matter what you do, Microsoft Windows have the master key and they can open your vault for the NSA.
No I don’t have any prejudices against you. But you should read here first.
2. The same caveats apply to Apple/Mac/iOS users, although I am not sure to what extent you are exposed. We know for a fact that Apple has agreed to cooperate with the NSA.
3. Recommendation. This brings us to Linux. Don’t think of it as a geeky, text-based operating system, only used by the tech enthusiast. In fact, there are many user-friendly Linux distributions which can help you a lot. For example, you can check out Fedora and Ubuntu. If you want a system that feels and looks exactly like Windows, you can try Zorin. These operating systems are safe as they are not proprietary. Installing them is not very difficult and you can find lots of online guides to get you started. If you are not computer savvy, you can ask the local computer shop to instal one on your computer for you. The money you spend on it comes back to you eventually as you don’t have to buy these operating systems—all of them are completely FREE.
4. Search engines. The first thing you should do is to get rid of Google search. This is Google’s most powerful medium to collect data from you. They track everything: your location, age, IP number, internet provider, login sessions, and, most importantly, the subject matter of your searches. The moment you open Google, they set a cookie—a small computer program in your PC to collect data from you—a feature which is presently set to expire only in 2038.
5. Microsoft and Yahoo have now teamed up. You should therefore also avoid Bing, the search engine by Microsoft.
6. Recommendation. Shift to DuckDuckGo. This is an anonymous search engine which neither tracks you nor stores your data. You are perfectly safe when you are searching using DuckDuckGo.
Another point in favor of DuckDuckGo and against Google is this: Google shows you the search results which they ‘think’ you might be interested in, based on the data which they have collected previously from your computer. DuckDuckGo does nothing like this. It presents you with pure data, unadulterated with material someone at Google thinks might be of interest to you based on your previous searches. By doing this, Google is in fact restricting your choices and nudging you in a particular direction.
7. Browsers. Avoid Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. Both these browsers collect data from you at all times and rob you of every vestige of privacy. Google Chrome sends all your private data to Google, whereas Internet Explorer sends all your private data to Microsoft. Your data is then funneled to the spies at the NSA.
8. FireFox is a much safer option, though Firefox cannot help you if the site you are visiting is keeping its tracks on you. Firefox however allows you to use a few security add-ons, I personally recommend Do Not Track Me, Better Privacy, and Cookie Controller.
9. There are other options available for Linux users, like RNQ and Konquerer.
10. Recommendation. Download and use TOR. Here are the download links for Linux, Mac and Windows (alas!). Don’t worry, there is nothing scary in it. Download the zip file, extract it, you will see how simple it is. They have modified a FireFox browser in a way that it is 10,000 times more difficult for anybody to check what are you surfing. How Tor works or achieves this would need an article in itself to explain—so this is not the place for me to do it.
Trust me: using TOR, which is a modified FireFox browser, will increase your online anonymity a thousand times. Admittedly, it’s a bit slow due to the various re-routing of data, but then we must be ready to do a trade-off: in exchange for the inconvenience of a little extra slowness, you get the huge benefit of near-perfect anonymity and privacy. It’s worth it.
11. TOR is available for your Android as well.
12. Emails. The second most valuable service we use online. Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail, right? Well, please note that these are all being read by someone. Yes, every email you send, including any attachments, are being recorded. You stand a better chance of privavy if you shift to a non-USA based company.
13. Recommendation. Start by ditching Gmail in favor of Yandex. It is actually a Google-like service and allows you to search text and images, watch videos, and send emails. It is based in Russia. I have read the user agreement carefully. They say they might use the data to show you advertisements, but as they are based in Russia, it is next to impossible that they will share your data with the American-based NSA. Yandex has a nice interface too. You won’t miss Gmail or Hotmail. Yandex also allows you to send attachments of up to 2 GB.
14. If you really want increased privacy and real anonymous emailing, you might try TorMail, a mail engine based in TOR network which is really anonymous and almost impossible to track. You can send and receive emails and do all the other normal things. Setting this up is not so difficult. Open your TOR browser and copy this link there, http://jhiwjjlqpyawmpjx.onion/.
15. Please note, TOR mail will work only if you use TOR browser.
16. Mobile or cell phones. Google’s Android is Google’s latest weapon to check all your data. As this is virtually developing into a pocket computer, and we use almost every Google service there, you are not safe with Android.
17. The same goes for your beloved iPhone or the latest Nokia Lumia you might have bought, as that is a Windows phone by Microsoft.
18. Recommendation. I am not sure right now, though I may be in a year or two. Maybe you should go back to old Java phones, the phones we used to use before these smartphones came. You can use FireFox phones but they are still not much to talk about. Your hope can be the upcoming pure Ubuntu phone but nothing can be said before they are launched.
19. Social networks. FaceBook, Twitter and Google Plus: the more you share information, the more exposed you are. Never forget this.
20. You should reject every Google service or use them under the disguise of TOR. There are, of course, other services of Google like YouTube, but by using TOR you can access those. The problem is, the moment you create a Google id to comment there or to upload a video, Google will start tracking you.
If you need any help in setting up anything I have discussed here, you might wish to leave a comment below. Please let me know if I have missed out anything important.
I hope I have been of some assistance to you.