Some Simple Steps Toward Online Privacy and Security

I value my privacy. That is one of the reasons I live where I do. (In the country) I don’t have nosy neighbors to deal with every day. My neighbors and I talk when there is a reason to do so.

I also value my online privacy. I don’t want to be a “product” for Google, or Facebook or whoever. So I do things to safeguard my privacy. Google tracks every search you make, back to you as an individual. Facebook tracks you even if you are not logged on to Facebook. (Every site that has a Facebook “Like” button is tracking you.) And they sell that information about you to other companies.

Google and Facebook – not to mention the CIA/NSA/FBI/EIEIO – want you to believe that privacy is impossible. That security is impossible. Because if you think it is impossible, or even just really hard, you won’t even bother to try to secure your technology. But it isn’t that hard to have decent privacy and security. And it isn’t just the .gov or the big corporations that want your information. Hackers are looking too.

So here is a list of things you can do. Some are easy to do; some are a bit harder. Some are free, while some cost a little. While the list isn’t in order of importance, or effect, the first 3 items on this list should take you less than 10 minutes – total. And you only have to do them once (or until you get a new computer or switch to a new browser.) The rest of the items are a bit more complex, but they are not impossible. Do one thing a day for a week. Or do one thing a week if they seem overly complicated. Even if you only do one thing a month, you will have much better security in a fairly short time. Do something.

  • Use a Search Engine That Doesn’t Track Every Query.

    There are a couple of alternatives to Google. And not Yahoo or Bing. (They aspire to be Google.) DuckDuckGo is the easiest (though you have to install an extension in Chrome to set it as your default search engine because Google REALLY doesn’t want you to have any options). Disconnect is another option. There are probably more choices to cut off the tracking of everything you do. I started using DuckDuckGo when Google stopped answering the queries I typed in and started answering what they THOUGHT I wanted to know. Also Google has a tendency to shortchange any site connected to firearms or the 2nd Amendment. (Which is a subject near and dear to my heart.) There are probably other subjects that Google is downplaying. (That said, I do use Google, Yahoo and Bing on occasion.)

  • Disable 3rd Party Cookies in Your Browser.

    This isn’t a fool-proof method, but the folks who write tracking software still complain about Apple’s Safari browser – it is the ONLY browser that ships with 3rd party cookies disabled by default. How to turn them off depends on which browser you use. But look under “settings” or “options” for something about content or privacy. The browsers have good help – mostly.

  • Install Privacy Protection Extensions in Your Browser.

    Privacy Badger from the EFF blocks all kinds of things that are stealing your info – and potentially loading Malware on your system. It is available for Gecko-based browsers (Firefox, Pale Moon, etc.) and Chromium-based browsers (Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, etc.). I am not sure about Microsoft’s browsers or Safari.

    uBlock Origin (not uBlock, uBlockPlus, or any of the others) is a fairly efficient ad-blocker that will shut down tracking-based ads. And the potential spyware, etc. that can come along with ads. Available for Gecko and Chromium browsers as well as Microsoft’s Edge. (Some of these may be available for your mobile devices as well.)

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Welcome to the Police State

Where the press does the bidding of the government (at the Dems in power), and your phone company spies for the .gov as well. AT&T reportedly spies on its customers for government cash

The Daily Beast is reporting that the telco has essentially turned itself into a spy-for-hire in the pay of the government. According to the piece, the company’s Project Hemisphere is providing warrantless surveillance, thanks to some legal gray areas, that score it millions of dollars from taxpayers.

And no one seems to care.

The Broken Whistle-blower System in the US Government 

You could also entitle this, “Why Snowden Was Right to Leave the US.” Ex-US Official Reveals Risks Faced By Internal Govt. Critics – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Though Snowden figures prominently, this is really the story of Thomas Drake, and John Crane. They were two other whistle-blowers in the intelligence community, and they were destroyed because they thought the .gov should have to obey the law. (Though Snowden is more quotable than either of them.)

There are no incentives for people to stand up against an agency on the wrong side of the law today, and that’s got to change.

The article details 2 whistle-blowers in the US government – specifically in the intelligence community. And while they were both right – the .gov was wasting BILLIONS of taxpayer money spying on US citizens – the cover-up ended their careers and eliminated their pensions.

“When I was at NSA, everybody knew that for anything more serious than workplace harassment, going through the official process was a career-ender at best. It’s a part of the culture,” Snowden told SPIEGEL and the Guardian when asked about the Crane case. “If your boss in the mail room lies on his time sheets, the inspector general might look into it. But if you’re Thomas Drake, and you find out the president of the United States ordered the warrantless wiretapping of everyone in the country, what’s the inspector general going to do? They’re going to flush it — and you with it.”

Spiegel likes the current US President, but the undertones are clear; Obama is suffering from the same disease that Nixon had. (If the President does it, then it isn’t illegal.) And they stated – up front – that Obama is just plain wrong when he says Snowden could have “worked within the system.” They system would have chewed him up and spit him out – after 35 years in prison.

Don’t expect to see the US media cover this. It might tip the election in a way they don’t like.

Snowden gets the last word.

Even today, he says, there isn’t a single whistleblower from the intelligence community whose disclosures didn’t lead to retaliation.

“Alexa, tell the Feds where the bodies are buried.”

More FBI Spying. The FBI Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny Wiretapping The Amazon Echo. Are you surprised? Then you haven’t been paying attention.

In many ways the Echo is a law enforcement dream. Imagine if you could go back in time and tell police that one day people would willingly put microphones in their own homes that, with a little hacking, could be heard from anywhere in the world 24/7.

And it isn’t clear that warrants are being obtained. Fourth Amendment? What is that?

Welcome to the Panoptican.

(The history of FBI hacking – which goes back farther than you may think – can be found at this link.)

Everybody Hates Feinstein and Burr’s Anti-encryption Bill

It will destroy a whole lot of things. Like any hope of security. Tech coalitions pen open letter to Burr and Feinstein over bill banning encryption | TechCrunch

The Venn Diagram tells the story.

It goes on to point out “unintended consequences” such as compromised security being compromised for bad actors as well as good, and also that any national attempt to hamper the operation of a global industry is foolish and bound to fail and, in failing, damage the reputation and economy of the U.S. (I’m paraphrasing).

RSA Cryptographers’ Panel – Privacy vs Mass Surveillance

Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman (The 2 people responsible for public key encryption), Moxie Marlinspike (Founder of Open Whisper Systems – the providers of some easy-to-use rock-solid secure communications), and Ronald Rivest and Avi Shamir (two university professors) discuss the current state and the future of cryptography.

They cover Apple vs the FBI. The future of cryptography in the face of quantum computing, and a few other things. They don’t all agree on all things. With a fair bit of NSA bashing along the way. And yes it is fairly techie at times. 47 minutes or so.

(Whitfield Diffie looks like Gandalf – or that’s the comment that Leo Laporte made on the latest episode of Security Now.)

Your Thermostat is Spying On You. (And your light bulbs, fridge, etc.)

As if smart phones weren’t enough… US intelligence chief: we might use the internet of things to spy on you | Technology | The Guardian

“In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” [James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence,] said.

Because your security is not important to corporations. And maybe not even to you.

In Orwell’s 1984 the televisions spied on the population. Now it is going to be everything in the house.

For a video describing this, and a few other security issues, see this week’s Threat Wire.