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Spy stoppers: get your privacy back

So you’ve heard about PRISM and the GCSB and the news has you concerned. You take your privacy seriously, and now you feel worried: if you can’t trust the services of any of the internet giants, how can you keep your communications private? You don’t need to be a terrorist or criminal to want to keep your communications private; businesses and law abiding people also have privacy requirements.

It’s not just government surveillance you might need to worry about, there are plenty of other nefarious folks out there. Though to be honest, I’m sure all the bad guys migrated to the Darknet a long time ago, only the stupidest would communicate on current channels about their plans.

Privacy vs. convenience

Fortunately you can keep your communications private if you really want to. As with everything in life, secure communication comes with a price. In this case the price you pay is convenience.

This post will show some possible countermeasures you can take if you want your privacy back.

Complete privacy

First you would need to define the level of the privacy you are looking for.
Complete privacy is when nobody knows what pages you have read, and your communications remain anonymous, untraceable and encrypted – accessible only for the recipients.

This is achievable, but you would need to abandon your everyday internet, and start using Tor.

Tor is free software that enables online anonymity. It directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide volunteer network consisting of more than three thousand relays to conceal a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis.

Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace internet activity. This includes visits to web sites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms. It is intended to protect user’s personal privacy, freedom, and ability to conduct confidential business by keeping their internet activities from being monitored.

In conjunction with Tor, you should use Bitmessages instead of email, and Cryptocat for online chatting.

Medium level privacy

If the extra work involved in total privacy seems too much, you can use a secure email provider, a VPN service, and encrypt your emails.

For a secure email service you have a number of options. The most secure option would be to set up an email server for yourself, but this does require familiarity with Unix and computer security practices. An easier path would be to choose a secure email service from Switzerland, like swissmail.org.

VPN’s are used to conceal the traces you leave on the internet. There are tons of VPN services available – my favourite is Privacy.io -, but you can search for other providers or use this list.

Secure email services means your emails are not accessible to anyone, but keep in mind that government agencies are wiretapping the communication lines itself, so you need to encrypt your message to make sure nobody else is reading it, just your intended recipient.

The best open source and free encryption suite is GPG.  GPG uses so capable an encryption engine, that you won’t need to worry about upgrading for the next decade. The downside is you need to exchange your public key with the recipient (i.e. your pen pals also need to install GPG).

Keeping mobile communications private

If you want to make sure none of your mobile conversations are surveilled, you should use a mobile encryption suite. For a robust and stable solution, frequent callers with an itch for extra privacy may want to look toward PrivateGSM.

PrivateGSM does not change the normal use of mobile phones: it can be activated and hidden in the background, or even turned off and started when needed. You can continue to use your mobile phone for traditional phone calls without any change. The quality of secure calls is equal to normal calls.

The choice is yours

There are many other ways to keep your communications private – just as there are many reasons for wanting to do so. If you’re not concerned about the potential of being surveilled by government and non government entities you can continue to use the internet and your mobile device as normal. If you feel you’d like to have some control over what you allow the world to have access to, the above links may be a useful starting point.

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