OMG- oh my god I cannot believe I am going to try to stab at this topic… It like opening that big bad bag of chips and it blows out the bottom all over your nice clean floor. I’ve been talking with a bunch of people on this matter and well its like smashing my head on a bed of spikes…. Without further adieu let’s give it a rip..
The Internet rapidly becoming less of a safe, free and open place for our ideas, opinions and communication? One could convincingly argue that it is.
Here is what the situation looks like today and what you can (and should?) do about it.
States controlling and restricting the Net
Once, there was the notion that the Internet was inherently conducive to more freedom and a threat to totalitarian states like the USSR. Well, the oppressive regimes of the world seem to have adapted.
As noted recently by Reporters Without Borders, Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam all control the Internet access tightly for their citizens, filtering “unwanted” parts and chasing dissidents. Another ten countries, including Australia, South Korea and Thailand, were given dishonorable mentions in the report.
States monitoring the Net
If you think the countries that openly restrict the Internet are scary, take a good look at the rest of the world.
It seems like the evolution towards more surveillance is collectively driven by strong active forces; small groups of high-profile terrorists work to provoke oppression while intelligence and security organizations play their part as well, often with the stated goal to protect us against said terrorists and other illegal activities.
We citizens, who are the only counterbalance to this development, often seem to be more occupied with exposing our personal data on Facebook and other sites rather than protecting it or at least thinking about how such information can be abused and how our rights are protected on the Internet.
Recording communications data, filtering the Web
The result of the evolution towards more monitoring on the Internet can be seen in the nearly limitless surveillance initiatives that have sprung up around the world. For example, in the EU a new directive will force operators to record not the content, but nearly all other details of any e-mail, SMS or phone communication and Web connection between six months to two years.
The EU IT-commissioner Viviane Reding is also a known proponent of the kind of filtering system suggested in Australia, where, in the name of fighting child pornography, an independent government agency can filter Web traffic using secret blacklists without prior judicial authorization.
Several countries have accepted tapping of all electronic communications across their borders while still requiring some evidence to do it internally. One problem here is that domestic traffic is often temporarily routed across borders. Since most countries are doing it, very few messages will remain unscanned. It is not a matter of only investigating suspected individuals or opening selected letters – here everything is parsed and searched.
Tracking what you think and what you do
The popular lack of resistance to a state – one that could be, but has not always been and may not always be, benign – monitoring and recording everything is stunning. In France, where the police only used to be allowed to store certain information about decision makers, a new system will permit the recording of opinions and other personal data for anybody above 13 years of age.
Remember, you are paying the bill
It is worth mentioning that in the end it is usually the taxpayers who end up paying the bill for these initiatives. Since tracking and recording traffic is very resource heavy, the costs involved are often significant.
As an example we can mention a new data traffic monitoring law here in Sweden (usually just called the “FRA law”), where the bureau responsible has demanded money for 250 additional employees, a new super computer to monitor the traffic across the Swedish borders, and larger offices. All as a direct result of the new law. Swedish tax payers are the ones who will end up financing all of this.
And that is just for a small country like Sweden (we took it as an example because this is where Pingdom is headquartered). Imagine the costs of equivalent programs in larger countries.
What you can do to protect your privacy
So, in case you don’t have blind faith in Big Brother, what can you do?
Technically, you can do quite a lot to protect yourself:
- Protecting your mail: Until quantum computers change the rules for how information travels, open source programs like PGP or GPG will make reading your e-mail very difficult indeed.
- Protecting your browsing: For encrypted surfing and chatting, Tor is one alternative available with a Firefox extension, the more extreme Freenet and I2Pbeing others.
- Protecting your data: Full Disc Encryption is hardware or software that will effectively encrypt your entire hard drive, including your operating system. Unless your particular hardware vendor has provided backdoors, FDE can be regarded as quite daunting for most would-be hackers.
But is that really the way to go?
All of the above measures must be used carefully to work. Any carelessness can make the protection useless, and all of these solutions will complicate your life. PGP or GPG requires your counterparty to have and always use a particular key. The anonymous surfing solutions mentioned above are not always stable and will slow down your Internet access significantly.
Governments in democracies change relatively often, but the protection of basic rights for citizens will hopefully be slow to change. Maybe the best option (while it is still there and your rights have not been taken away from you) is to carefully consider what system you want for yourself and your children, and to make your opinion heard – loudly – to the people you have elected to run your country.
Today the problem is not the lack of opportunity to make your voice heard about these issues, it is the general lack of will to do so. In the future, that opportunity to be heard might no longer be there, or no longer matter. The time to act is now.
How do you start to surf safe?
One way is Tor. It is a free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.
Anonymity does matter. Tor 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, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.
More ways to protect yourself
No matter how clever your username and password, login credentials can be cracked. For an added layer of security, you can change your router’s IP address. Manufacturers typically use a basic IP address (192.168.0.1 is used for many), which is used to access the router login page. By changing part of that IP address, unwanted guests will need your username and password, plus they’ll need to guess your customized IP. Here’s how to make your IP address more secure.
Mac Address Spoofing/ Identity masking.
If a user chooses to spoof his or her MAC address in order to protect the user’s privacy, this is called identity masking. One might wish to do this because, as an example, on a Wi-Fi network connection a MAC address is not encrypted. Even the secure IEEE 802.11i-2004 encryption method does not prevent Wi-Fi networks from sending out MAC addresses. Hence, in order to avoid being tracked, the user might choose to spoof the device’s MAC address. However, hackers use the same technique to maneuver around network permissions without revealing their identity. Some networks use MAC filtering in order to prevent unwanted access. Hackers can use MAC spoofing to get access to a particular network and do some damage. Hackers’ MAC spoofing pushes the responsibility for any illegal activity onto authentic users. As a result, the real offender may go undetected by law enforcement.
Controversy on Mac address spoofing.
Although MAC address spoofing is not illegal, its practice has caused controversy in some cases. In the 2012 indictment against Aaron Swartz, who was accused of illegally accessing files from JSTOR, prosecutors claimed that because he had spoofed his MAC address it showed purposeful intent to commit criminal acts. In June 2014, Apple announced that future version of their iOS platform would randomize MAC addresses for all WiFi connections, making it more difficult for internet service providers to track user activities and identities, which resurrected moral and legal arguments surrounding the practice of MAC spoofing among several blogs and newspapers.
Unlike IP address spoofing, where senders spoof their IP address in order to cause the receiver to send the response elsewhere, in MAC address spoofing the response is usually received by the spoofing party (special ‘secure’ switch configurations can prevent the reply from arriving, or the spoofed frame being transmitted at all). However, MAC address spoofing is limited to the local broadcast domain.
Incognito Mode for browsing.
If you don’t want Google Chrome to save a record of what you visit and download, you can browse the web in incognito mode. All this does is not allow the persons or others that use the same computer to see what you’ve been up to.
Examples: Work computers, Surfing raunchy porn? Shopping with a Credit Card?
Firewalls (another step of security)
Free Firewalls available: ZoneAlarm, TinyWall, Comodo, and many more.
A firewall is a network security system that controls the incoming and outgoing network traffic based on an applied rule set. A firewall establishes a barrier between a trusted, secure internal network and another network (e.g., the Internet) that is assumed not to be secure and trusted. Firewalls exist both as a software solution and as a hardware appliance. Many hardware-based firewalls also offer other functionality to the internal network they protect, such as acting as a DHCP server for that network.
Many personal computer operating systems include software-based firewalls to protect against threats from the public Internet. Many routers that pass data between networks contain firewall components and, conversely, many firewalls can perform basic routing functions.
Sneakier malware will attempt to connect with the Internet by manipulating or masquerading as a trusted program. I use utilities called “leak tests” to check whether firewalls detect these sneaky techniques, with varying results. Comodo and Ashampoo Firewall missed all of my leak tests, TinyWall detected about half, and ZoneAlarm corralled them all.
Beyond the Firewall
High-end firewalls like Norton’s and Kaspersky’s include additional protection against network-based attacks, usually in the form of a Host Intrusion Prevention System. When I attacked them using exploits generated by the Core IMPACT penetration tool, Norton blocked every exploit and Kaspersky blocked most. The free firewalls just don’t include this functionality.
Both ZoneAlarm and Comodo also offer free antivirus protection, and it’s a snap to add that protection to either of these two firewalls. These two also include a behavior-monitoring system, flagging suspicious program behaviors. In testing, though, both of them cast suspicions on both valid and malicious programs. They also offer less-than-stellar protection against fraudulent (phishing) websites, and a wealth of other features not strictly firewall-related.
TinyWall, on the other hand, sticks to basics. It’s a firewall, and only a firewall; in some cases, that may be exactly what you need. Ashampoo Firewall works only with Windows XP and Windows 2000, and its bonus tools are of the same era, either duplicating features already available in Windows or addressing problems that have been irrelevant for years.
And the Winner Is…
ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2013 retains its title as Editors’ Choice for free personal firewall protection. It protects your PC against outside attack, manages program control with few popups, and can’t be disabled by malware. Yes, you’ve got basic firewall protection built right into your Windows operating system, but ZoneAlarm goes way beyond the basics.
Comodo is also full-featured and effective, though it doesn’t quite reach ZoneAlarm’s level. On the other hand, if you need firewall protection and only firewall protection, TinyWall could be a reasonable choice. They’re all free, so you can give them each a try and pick your favorite