A program known as Prism, unveiled by whistle blower Edward Joseph Snowden, shows the U.S government has been spying on emails, searches, Skype calls, and other electronic communications used by Americans for the last several years. Several major corporations, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Skype, PalTalk, Yahoo, YouTube, and Drop box participated, perhaps unwittingly in some cases.
1. Avoid using popular search engines
If you’re concerned about the government watching your moves online, simply avoid making Microsoft Bing and Google your search engines of choice; try DuckDuckGo instead. The site promises not to track or store your searches (although it does store anonymized searches to improve results, executives said) which should provide some degree of confidence that you’re not being tracked online. Another alternative way to make sure that information about your searches can’t be used to build a personal profile is to use a search engine that doesn’t retain a history of your searches. That’s what Ixquick promises. It says it deletes all information about your searches within 48 hours, so the information simply isn’t around for anyone to use. If the government subpoenas the data, there’s nothing for them to get. All reports indicate that the Prism program is expanding, although for now DuckDuckGo and Ixquick seem to be safe.
2. Block that malware
The first and most obvious thing you should do to secure your PC is to lock it down from malware. To ensure that no Trojan or other worm sneaks inside your PC and provides its own spying eyes on your online activities, your PC should be hardened and your favorite antimalware is the first line of defense. If you’re concerned about the safety and well-being of your PC, you should have this as your first priority; follow this with your favorite anti-virus program(s).
3. Do encryption
Eventually, you’re going to have to start communicating with someone electronically. If you’d like to think those conversations are private, it’s time to start thinking about encryption. To start out with, encrypt your hard drive and existing files. The next step is to protect your email by encrypting it. To secure your email effectively, you should encrypt three things; the connection from your email provider, your actual email messages, and your stored, cached, or archived email messages. If you want to take it even further, consider using a secure email service. Email will travel over the Internet, where theoretically it can be accessed by just about anyone.
4. Use VPN
A VPN, as its name suggests, is just a virtual version of a secure, physical network. It is the web of computers linked together to share files and other resources. However, VPNs connect to the outside world over the Internet, and they can serve to secure general Internet traffic in addition to corporate assets. In fact, the lion’s shares of modern VPNs are encrypted, so computers, devices, and other networks that connect to them do so via encrypted tunnels. In the same vein, consider signing up for a virtual private network, which creates an encrypted “tunnel” to another server, which then acts as an agent on your behalf.
5. Don’t use your smartphone
If we assume that Apple, Google and Microsoft are being monitored, then the safest way to avoid being tracked is to stop using your smartphone. A number of services already ask for your location, in the name of providing better search results or services. Feature phones may be no better, but the amount of information that can be captured is much smaller. A feature phone is a mobile phone which is priced at the mid-range in a wireless provider’s hardware lineup. It is intended for customers who want a moderately priced, multipurpose phone without the expense of a high-end smartphone.
6. Watch those hotspots
Wandering from a coffee shop to a library to a free cafe may provide another layer of security, as your client IP address will vary by location. Just make sure that when you’re roaming from location to location, someone isn’t trying to sniff your PC or worse such as stealing your personal identification that maybe stored on your PC.
7. Use proxy web surfing to be anonymous
If you really want to surf the web anonymously without being tracked, consider using various online proxy services. Programs such as proximotron and a4proxy and other free software allow your IP address to be hidden from the site. All the websites will be able to see is the IP address of the proxy server currently selected in the program. It can also send completely fake IP address to the site, confusing the site even further. You can use these programs with a web-based email service like Hotmail to send email messages which are untraceable to your IP address. You can easily test it by sending an email to yourself and looking at the headers of the message when it arrives. Note, some proxy servers are considered malicious since it may be run by the hackers. Therefore, using these programs above allows you to pick safer proxy agents throughout the Internet.
8. Tie it up together with a hard password scheme
Finally, the last thing you’ll want to do is make sure that all of your encrypted services are tied up neatly with a unique, easy-to-remember-but-impossible-to-crack passphrase. The best practice right now seems to be to find a good password manager like LastPass, and create your own unique password. Will these tips make your PC Prism proof? No, not necessarily. However, if you’re concerned about the recent Prism disclosures, they’ll go a long way to help you sleep better at night. If you truly want to be anonymous and not tracked by anyone, find a nice remote area and drop all technology such as smartphones, EZ-pass, credit cards, and so forth. You literally have to live off the land and get off the grid completely because the moment you surf the Internet, someone is watching you. Check out the TED video by Gary Kovacs, tracking the trackers below:
Understand how technologies work so that you can protect yourself being tracked. Use social media wisely and also avoid using popular search engines if you can. You read it, heard it and felt it here. -SjC