So you’re probably thinking ‘Cyber Surveillance? I don’t care if I’m being surveilled, I got nothing to hide!’ And even though that’s true in a way – you probably don’t have anything illegal to criminal to hide and aren’t on any government watchlist – ask yourself this: Would you be 100% okay with handing your phone and computer to a complete stranger and telling them all your passwords so they may look at ALL you have stored on your devices? At all your pictures, videos, documents, your search history, your download history and your private messages? Unless you live in the woods and don’t even own a cell phone, aren’t active on social media and never take any embarrassing/ sexy selfies, the answer is probably ‘Oh god no!’
Global mass surveillance is sadly a reality we have to deal with and no longer a conspiracy theory. And in the light of the recent ‘Vault 7’ documents published by Wiki Leaks, I felt like it was a good idea to write up a list of things anyone can do right now, at home on their own computer, with no help from a professional. If you would like to read more about the severeness of the ways governmental institutions spy on everyday citizens and find out more about the ‘Vault 7 Leaks’, check out the links at the end of this post!
Here are my tips and tricks to protect yourself and your files from cyber surveillance:
1. Use End-to-End Encryption
Most messenger apps nowadays have an option to encrypt messages end-to-end, although most of the time you have to go out of your way to turn this option on. It’s unclear to me why these apps aren’t just using end-to-end encryption for all chats at all times without you going further steps to ensure this. In the Facebook Messenger App the encrypted message option is literally called ‘Secret Conversation’, as if all your other messages are totally public. Shouldn’t private conversations online be ‚secret‘ anyways?
I highly recommend using only end-to-end encrypted messages for all your conversations, since it’s the only way you’re going to know for sure that nobody except you will be able to read your messages!
If you’re using Facebook Messenger, simply go into a chat, then click on the persons name and chose ‘Secret Conversation’. This will start a entire new conversation which will be end-to-end encrypted. It’s a bit confusing at first since the other person might not get notified for the new ‘secret’ conversation, but just let them know and you’re good to go!
If you’re using Whats App, the process is both easier and more complicated at the same time. Although all conversations in Whats App should be encrypted as a default, it’s not necessarily guaranteed! To make sure they are, go into a chat, then click on the persons name to get to the options. Click on the option ‘Encryption’, which will then show you a code in both QR and digit form. To ensure your messages are encrypted, scan the other persons code and vice versa. Or you can simply compare your codes! The advantage over the Facebook App is that you don’t have to start an entire new conversation.
2. Use Plug-Ins to encrypt Internet Traffic
By installing a plug-in called ‘HTTPS:// Everywhere’ to encrypt internet Traffic you can maximise the amount of web data you protect by forcing websites to encrypt webpages whenever possible. This is super easy to do and takes about two minutes!
Install ‘HTTPS:// Everywhere’ now: https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere
3. Encrypt Your Hard Drive
Encrypting your hard drive sounds really complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple! Both Windows and Apple systems have ways to encrypt your local storage. Do yourself a favor and turn it on, because without it anyone with a couple of minutes of physical access to your computer or cell phone can copy it’s contents, even without any passwords.
Find out how to do it here:
4. Use Strong Passwords
I know, I know. Who has the time to come up with super long and hard to remember passwords and then on top of that use different ones for all online accounts? But just to make it really clear for you, writing down all your passwords and keeping them in your wallet would still be safer than using the same short password over and over again. The easiest way to keep all your online accounts well protected is with a Password Manager, for example Dashlane (https://www.dashlane.com/). It’s free, easy to use and perfect to keep track of your passwords. This program is honestly god-sent and will help you keep your accounts protected as well as save a lot of time! Dashlane can even create automated random letter and digit combinations as passwords!
5. Turn on two-factor authentication.
This is another really easy thing to do which hardly takes any effort! Most social media platforms and email providers offer two-factor authentication, so use it! This system protects you from attacks on web and cloud services and works with a password and a regularly changed confirmation number.
6. Use Tor
This is for everyone who wants to go that extra step to make sure what you’re doing online stays private. Tor is basically like a Firefox browser, only safer. The software protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world. It prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked. Find out more here: https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html.en#downloads
I really hope you will apply some or all of these tips to your daily life! Protecting yourself from cyber surveillance is important and should not be overlooked!
Here are some very interesting sources on the topic of global surveillance if you would like to find out more:
Vault 7 (largest ever publication of confidential documents on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) – Wiki Leaks https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/
No Place to Hide – Glenn Greenwald http://glenngreenwald.net/
Snowden Files – The Intercept https://theintercept.com/snowden-sidtoday/
Citizenfour – Edward Snowden Documentary https://citizenfourfilm.com/