Privacy has become a major issue in society recently, with the rise of government surveillance and bad actors looking to invade privacy for monetary gain, or just because they can. Government surveillance is especially troubling because it suppresses our freedom of speech and causes us to avoid certain things because of a fear of being watched. With this in mind, here are 5 practical easy things you can do to avoid surveillance and communicate privately.
1. End-to-end encryption
A very easy way to avoid having information about your online habits and communications collected is to make sure you are using something called end-to-end encryption. This simply means that the only people who can read a message are the sender and the recipient. On the web, this means using websites that support “SSL”, or in other words the “https” protocol instead of the insecure “http”.
Normally if you want to go to a site using https you would get there either by clicking a link that goes directly there, or by typing it in yourself and having to remember to use that instead of http. A great way to make sure you are always using https when available is through the browser extension HTTPS-Everywhere, which is developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
It’s available here for every major browser (except Microsoft) https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere%20
The way it works is by detecting if a site you request supports SSL, and even if you initially requested the insecure version, it makes sure you always get the secure one instead. This is important because some surveillance techniques work by rewriting your requests to be insecure, but HTTPS-Everywhere ensures it is always secure.
2. Avoid online trackers
Another way your privacy can be compromised online is by advertising companies looking to watch what sites you visit and what you’re doing on them. Browsers like Firefox and Chrome will send something called a “Do Not Track” header (like a line of information) to websites when you go to them, but not all services respect this header. Furthermore, some services such as disqus are not intending to track websites you visit, but they end up inadvertently tracking you because of how they work.
The solution is another extension by our friends at the EFF called Privacy Badger.
The way Privacy Badger works is by analyzing the web services that your browser requests when you go to different sites, and it can figure out if you are being tracked and blocks that service so you are no longer tracked. It allows you to whitelist different sites if you have a reason to use them despite the tracking. For example the “like” buttons that Facebook allows other sites to use are a form of tracking, which Privacy Badger disables, but you may enable it and still get the other benefits of using Privacy Badger.
3. Uninstall risky software
A good way of improving your privacy and security is by uninstalling software that has been known to present security and privacy threats, but is not necessarily intended as malicious. This decreases the chance that you will be compromised. A good first step at removing so-called “riskware” is by uninstalling Adobe Flash. This software has been known to be extremely buggy in the past, and has lead to many compromised computers. In addition, it is a privacy risk because it allows people doing surveillance to bypass many anonymity tools (such as the Tor network and web proxies in general). It is also a good idea to remove Java from your browser for the same reasons. Removing both of these will greatly improve your security and anonymity.
4. Encrypt your phone calls and text messages
Law enforcement and “security” agencies have been known to target phone calls and text messages extensively. GSM, the protocol that most cellphones use to make calls and send text messages, is highly insecure and open to surveillance. Police use something called a “sting-ray” to decrypt and intercept phones (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingray_phone_tracker ). Since it is not possible to rely on the protocol itself for protection, it is good to use third-party text messaging and phone call apps that do end-to-end encryption for you. The absolute best app for this is called Signal, and it provides complete end-to-end encryption so not even your cellphone provider can read your messages or listen to your calls.
You can find it here, https://whispersystems.org/ just click “install” and you can get it for iOS or Android.
5. Protect your cellphone
Finally, a fantastic way to protect the security of your data from both surveillance and police searches is by enabling encryption for the entire device. The latest versions of Android offer this ability, as well as iPhones.
This protects your phone from any searches, and stops unreasonable, suspicion-less searches. It is especially important if you plan on attending any protests or demonstrations where police might be looking for a way to grab data from you.