The recent NSA leaks from whistleblower Ed Snowden have publicly confirmed that digital privacy does not exist. The federal government and intelligence agencies have direct server access to the world’s most popular sites and services including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and more. This means that all of your data when using these services including Skype, YouTube, etc has been compromised and can be used against you whenever strategically necessary.
Always remember, you are being recorded and monitored regardless of whether you have done anything wrong or not. This includes your emails, Internet activity, searches, banking activity, passwords, etc. Basically everything to build a complete profile about who you are, how you think, how you live, etc. This is very powerful data gathering and the goal of the intelligence agencies is nothing less than Total Information Awareness to be used to control and manage populations.
For these reasons, I have compiled some helpful tips to help you maintain your privacy and integrity when using the Internet. These are by no means comprehensive, but they can be quite useful and give you some semblance of peace when browsing.
1. Use StartPage.com for all your searches. Known as “the world’s most private search engine”, StartPage will allow you to search anonymously and securely through Google. It is probably the only search engine that does not collect or share any personal information about you. You can even access pages through a proxy quickly and easily. StartPage functionality can be easily added to your browser for all searches made through the address bar. If you value your privacy, this is really a no-brainer.
If you use Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. then everything you search is logged to your IP address and is used to build a comprehensive profile about all your online activity. This means that the government literally has the ability to know everything you’ve been interested in, how you type (thus, how you think), and much more. Protect your searches!
2. Consider using an Anonymizer such as Tor to protect your identity. Tor prevents anyone from learning your location, browsing habits, and is an extremely effective tool against network surveillance and traffic analysis. Tor is essentially a network of virtual tunnels run by volunteers that allows your real IP address to remain hidden and undetectable when browsing the Internet. It is used by whistleblowers, hackers, and all those who value anonymity. You can also use it to access sites that your ISP has blocked or banned. Keep in mind, if you use Tor to access personally-identifying sites like Facebook then you pretty much lose your ability to remain anonymous. Learn more about this powerful software and please use it responsibly! To get started quickly, please download the Tor Browser Bundle. Using this software wisely and effectively will likely require changing your browsing habits, so be aware of this.
3. Consider using a private and secure social network like Pidder. This is a private social network that uses encrypted communication and offers the ability to remain anonymous. If you are truly looking for ways to stay in touch with close ones in a uncompromised manner, this could be the site for you. While it will not have the userbase of Facebook, this is still an excellent alternative for secure social networking.
4. Use a firewall and a secure wireless connection. Protecting your inbound and outbound network traffic is essential. There are many free software options available for this. I cannot guarantee the integrity of these programs, but I personally recommend Little Snitch for Mac users. It appears that Outpost may be a good alternative for Windows. The key is to be able to see what services/sites are trying to send/receive data over your connection. The more stringent your firewall rules are, the better. Keep your computer clean by using some kind of anti-spam/spyware software and minimize your use of highly sketchy sites.