Photo courtesy of PM Cheung via Flickr.
It’s a cat and mouse game, in which the NSA is the feline and your data the rodent. Here’s how you can hide your data to keep the NSA off your trail.
Since initial reports by the Washington Post of NSA snooping, which concluded that the National Security Agency has access to an abundance of Americans’ personal user information through a variety of sources including Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Skype, more and more revelations have come to light on just how much information is at stake.
As a quick summary of findings, the NSA can mine data from all of the following, if necessary: personal email, voice and video chat, photos, stored data, file transfers, activity notifications, networking details, phone records, credit card transactions, and email/chat contact lists of millions upon millions of users — information they use to target potential terrorists (often at the cost of personal privacy.)
Basically, The NSA has the ability to know more about you than you know about yourself. Will this affect you? Maybe not. But at the very least, it’s enough to make people uneasy.
Regardless of whether you have something to hide, however, there are ways to work around this slippery business and secure yourself from prying snoopers and data-collectors. Here’s how you can hide your data from the NSA if you want to:
Search without leaving a trace.
As Google was one of the many companies accused with cooperating with the NSA to hand over user data, many have turned to private engines instead with this worry in mind. There are a number of alternate engines available: For example, Disconnect, DuckDuckGo, Ixquick, and (ironically) an encrypted search offered by Google itself.
These engines do not track or store data, meaning there is no data to turn over to the NSA from user searches.
Mask your IP address.
Another option is masking your personal IP address. Downloading Tor software allows users a free and open network, defended from outside surveillance. Tor, the ultimate “dark” app, uses a technology called onion routing to disguise users’ locations through layers of encryptions.
According to the Washington Post, a 2007 NSA presentation stated that they would never be able to de-anonymize all Tor users, though with manual analysis a very small fraction could be de-anonymized.
Send and receive encrypted calls, texts, and emails.
For those who want to get really mysterious, there are numerous options that can teach users to encrypt their ingoing and outgoing communications. For email, the GNU Privacy Guard allows a crypted backend for secure communication and data storage. Or you can use the tool PGP owned by Symantec (short for “Pretty Good Privacy”), which encodes email content so that it can only be interpreted by the sender and receiver.
A program called Silent Circle is aimed toward mobile security, allowing for encrypted calls, video, text, and file transfers. Similarly, the app TextSecure provides encryption for all on-phone and over the air text messages.
Infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden said in a Reddit AMA that email encryption works, calling it “one of the only things you can rely on.” Cryptology experts also tell MIT Technology Review that the NSA hasn’t broken the mathematical operations used to cloak online banking or e-mail.
Use alternative email and chat providers.
Don’t trust Gmail, Yahoo, or AOL? One simple solution that would stop these companies from prostituting your data is to find an alternative provider not involved with the NSA.
Website Prism-Break.org lists safe alternatives not included in data survaillance programs, such as MyKolab, which is hosted in Switzerland and benefits from their strong privacy laws, as well as Riseup, which helps tens and thosands of mail users with a secure email infastructure that stores mail on encryptes partitions.
Using an safe alternative provider or hosting your own email will help mask your address books, as well.
Protecting your instant messages from intrusion is simple and easy with certain applications. Adium (for MAC) hooks on to other chat programs, such as AIM, Yahoo, allowing for “off the record” communication. The PC version of Adium is called Pidgin, which does the same thing for Windows and other UNIX operating systems.
Isolate Facebook, and ditch your iPhone.
Lastly, absolutely nothing on Facebook is private, so be wary of what you post, if you choose to at all. According to CBS, Facebook also captures data from your browser, even when you’re logged out. By using Facebook only in one browser, and conducting personal activities separately, you can stop them from data mongering.
Unfortunately for IOS users, as well as those with Microsoft Windows phones, there are no alternative operating systems that will hide your mobile data. Android users will have better luck, according to Prism-Break.org, with alternatives such as CyanogenMod and Replicant available for free and private usage.