June 14, 2013

Ideas for keeping your data safer from spying

By Raphael Satter / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

In this undated photo made available by Google, hundreds of fans funnel hot air from the computer servers into a cooling unit to be recirculated at a Google data center in Mayes County. Okla. The green lights are the server status LEDs on the from of the servers.

AP

___

Cut up your credit cards

The Wall Street Journal says the NSA is monitoring American credit card records in addition to phone calls. So stick to cash, or, if you're more adventurous, use electronic currencies to move your money around.

Disadvantages: Credit cards are a mainstay of the world payment system, so washing your hands of plastic money is among the most difficult moves you can make. In any case, some cybercurrency systems offer only limited protection from government snooping and many carry significant risks. The value of Bitcoin, one of the better-known forms of electronic cash, has oscillated wildly, while users of another popular online currency, Liberty Reserve, were left out of pocket after the company behind it was busted by international law enforcement.

___

Don't keep your data in America or with American companies

U.S. companies are subject to U.S. law, including the Patriot Act, whose interpretations are classified. Although the exact parameters of the PRISM data mining program revealed by the Guardian and The Washington Post remain up for debate, what we do know is that a variety of law enforcement officials — not just at the NSA — can secretly demand your electronic records without a warrant through an instrument known as a National Security Letter. Such silent requests are made by the thousands every year.

If you don't like the sound of PRISM, National Security Letters, or anything to do with the Patriot Act, your best bet is to park your data in a European country, where privacy protections tend to be stronger.

Disadvantages: Silicon Valley's Internet service providers tend to be better and cheaper than their foreign counterparts. What's more, there's no guarantee that European spy agencies don't have NSA-like surveillance arrangements with their own companies. When hunting for a safe place to stash your data, look for smaller countries with robust human rights records. Iceland, long a hangout for WikiLeaks activists, might be a good bet.

___

Steer clear of malicious software

If they can't track it, record it, or intercept it, an increasing number of spies aren't shy about hacking their way in to steal your data outright. Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, warned the Guardian that his agency had been on a worldwide binge of cyberattacks.

"We hack everyone everywhere," he said.

Former officials don't appear to contradict him. Ex-NSA chief Michael Hayden described it as "commuting to where the information is stored and extracting the information from the adversaries' network." In a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, he boasted that "we are the best at doing it. Period."

Malicious software used by hackers can be extremely hard to spot. But installing an antivirus program, avoiding attachments, frequently changing passwords, dodging suspicious websites, creating a firewall, and always making sure your software is up to date is a good start.

Disadvantages: Keeping abreast of all the latest updates and warily scanning emails for viruses can be exhausting.

___

So will all this keep my data safe from spying?

Safer, maybe.

Using anonymity services and encryption "simply make it harder, but not impossible for a dedicated investigator to link your activities together and identify you," Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy and security researcher, said in an email.

"Someone can always find you – just depends on how motivated they are (and how much information they have access to)."

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)