Escape NSA Surveillance – iVPN

Nick Pearson, CEO of iVPN, shares his advice for keeping privacy online despite the broad reach of the NSA. iVPN is a privacy platform that is dedicated to the protection of online freedoms. As an Electronic Frontier Foundation member, iVPN also shows its commitment to the preservation of privacy rights.

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The Enormity of the NSA Surveillance Scandal

The PRISM scandal and following reports about the depth of NSA surveillance activities has brought to light how far the NSA can really go. State-level surveillance of the Internet is not just monitoring criminal activity but an intrusive and all-encompassing surveillance of the daily activities of all Internet users. The NSA not only has the power to request information from major Internet company databases, but has complete and unhindered access to all data stored on the Internet. The NSA has also forged alliances with other intelligence agencies, such as the UK’s GCHQ, for the purpose of sharing collected data and conducting further intelligence gathering.

The ability of the NSA to access password-protected social media content, emails, private searches and incognito website visits has many feeling vulnerable. The news of this ability in action without the benefit of judicial oversight has confirmed the public’s fears that the NSA has overstepped its bounds. Though the courts are yet undecided, NSA surveillance represents a clear violation of 4th amendment rights for many. Its similarities to many of the programs that non-democratic nations conduct and the government’s efforts to protect and conceal it are too close to totalitarianism for comfort. But as many security experts and privacy advocates are stressing, individuals must seek ways to protect themselves until the situation is resolved.

Protection from NSA Invasive Data Mining

We cannot wait, open and vulnerable, while the authorities argue the case. There are ways that we can protect ourselves from the invasion of our private data online. It is not impossible to become anonymous online, but it takes a degree of time and effort to establish a routine that will protect your identity and personal information. It is not without sacrifice, but if conveniences are what have made us soft and vulnerable then we must choose to give them up. Online privacy is a matter of gaining and maintaining control over who can access your data online. Not everyone may be willing or able to do everything it takes to become anonymous online, but leaving out some aspects leaves a big hole in your defenses that the NSA can exploit to dig in and expose you. Below are the tools and best practices that iVPN CEO Nick Pearson recommends for reclaiming online privacy.

Search Engines

Internet users need to switch over from the major search engines to ones that respect user privacy. The major search engines are involved in PRISM, and all data collected by them is easily searchable by the NSA. You can still search on Google, Yahoo, and Bing if you are not logged in to your accounts with them to avoid being connected to the search. But cookies can still leave a trace to you through your device. The best option is a search engine like DuckDuck go that respects user privacy. You will not get personalized search results, but there are no cookies and your information will not be stored. If you like Google results, you can use StartPage, which removes your identifying information before submitting your search query. The NSA may become interested in these services as well if they become popular, so stay updated and switch over to a less conspicuous service when things get hot.

Facebook

Many, many Internet users prefer Facebook because they can conveniently contact friends, join groups, play games, and share photos and stories and activities. But anything on Facebook is searchable by the NSA. Staying private on Facebook may mean deactivating your account. But if you must stay on Facebook, create a new account that stores minimal information. Use an alternate phone number that is not connected to you in any way. Use an intelligent alias and make sure your contacts can’t or won’t identify you. Add a different set of friends and family so that the group does not give clues to who you really are.

There is a tool called Dark Profiles that supposedly track and store data on Internet users even outside of Facebook. It is not confirmed, but extra caution can be applied to outsmart the tool. Entering false information on your profile and liking different things can throw them off the trail. There are also Facebook cookies that can follow you to other websites you visit. The browser extension Facebook Disconnect can stop Facebook from tracking you by blocking third-party access. Ghostery is an example of a cookie blocker that identifies ad companies that are trying to track you and then blocks them.

Private Email

There are many more private email providers than there are search engines and social media platforms. You can try GuerillaMail, RiseUp, or Rediff. When communicating with people, take steps to avoid being emailed from accounts with Yahoo, Gmail, and Hotmail or Outlook. This will protect your email from infiltration and protect you from being revealed. You can additionally encrypt your emails to secure their content with tools like GNU Privacy Guard and Pretty Good Privacy. The people you email will need to use software to read your emails, so inform them in a discreet way about your choice.

Hide Your IP Address

Your IP address can easily identify you. It is assigned by your ISP and connected to the device that you use to connect to the network that accesses the Internet. Anything you want to connect with reads your IP address before establishing the connection. Your ISP will have detailed information about you from your account – name, address, and telephone number. Your ISP will also track your IP address to monitor the details of your online activities. They can see things like when you visited what website and when you emailed this or that contact.

Metadata is attached to every piece of digital data. It contains a summary of the file’s contents. In Europe, all ISPs must store this data. In the US, it is not mandatory, but most ISPs store user metadata anyway. They share this data with the authorities when they need it for criminal investigations.

To effectively hide your IP address to avoid tracking and monitoring, you will need a reliable anonymization tool. Services like Tor and The Onion Router are relatively secure, but the most comprehensive tool is a VPN. For instance, Tor traffic can be monitored at exit nodes. Privacy-conscious VPN services maintain their own secure servers and route traffic through them anonymously. They maintain logs only for internal network monitoring purposes. Some VPNs log metadata and may share this information with government offices, so select only from those with strict privacy policies and a reputation for respecting user privacy. VPNs are also very serious about their services and have the resources to provide better speeds and connection reliability. They additionally secure all Internet communications, not just what goes through your web browser. So if you use VoIP services and other Internet enabled software, the VPN will encrypt that traffic as well.

Give Your Support

Privacy advocates and services that are taking a stand for user privacy need support. The battle for online privacy is not an easy one, and individual groups cannot win without help. When we battled SOPA, ACTA, and CISPA, we saw people and groups united against these acts that sought to limit our Internet freedoms. The strength of online activism comes from having the massive backing that only the Internet using public can provide. With everyone behind the protests, they have the presence necessary to be noticed by legislators. These lawmakers have a different perspective and goals, so they need to see a collective protest that will draw their attention to the public perspective so they can understand what it is we are defending.

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