Newsflash: The govt. spies on you! It monitors your calls, your texts (even encrypted once such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter). your social media profiles, browsing habits, internet activity and everything else! (But you already knew that, didn’t you?)
Most people simply accept it thinking, how can a common man fight billion dollar agencies with the law backing them up with all that power, isn’t that right? Well fortunately you can, without spending a single penny or even letting anyone else know you’re doing it!
That’s what this article is all about, I’ll be talking about the Top 10+ ways you can prevent the govt. from spying on you!
Does the Govt. Really Spy on You?
For those who find it hard to believe, we’ve done our share or research and armed ourselves up with proofs and data to walk our talk!
The NSA was accused of wiretapping (source: TheGuardian) the communications of François Baroin and Pierre Moscovici, two successive French Finance ministers!
Even the German Chancellory was monitored and tapped for “decades” as per a report published by WikiLeaks.
If you think it only happens to VIPs and important personalities and only by govt. agencies, you’re wrong.
Companies like Google and Facebook are multifaceted and they have access to the finest details of our lives, Google owns not just Google, but Gmail, Youtube, and Drive as well.
The same holds true for Facebook, it owns Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram to name just a few of the daily basic apps that just about everyone on the planet uses. Even Apple holds a number of apps such as iMessage and basically the “iPhone”!
If you look into it, Youtube knows exactly what you watch online, Google obviously knows every query you’ve ever searched for, Facebook is like a second portal into our lives and relations (even personal problems!), and is anything more personal than Whatsapp?
So when you sum all these up, you’d know anyone who has access to even one of these apps will have a detailed knowledge of your existence! (And these companies own “all” of those apps).
To make things worse, companies like Gmail and Yahoo have rights to actually “read” your E-mails, you heard that right.
And because those companies fall under the U.S jurisdiction, they can be easily coerced into sharing away all of those details whenever the govt. warrants it.
Edward Snowden already leaked documents which shed light on the PRISM surveillance program, it’s a program under which the U.S govt. (basically NSA) can demand companies such as Google, Facebook, Skype, Apple etc. to share private, confidential, encrypted communications of individuals under the FISA Amendment Act 2008.
NSA was also accused of designing a spyware which would grant them remote backdoor access to iOS devices (source: Jacob Applebaum’s conference – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntTnLO-4p1o) and here’s the leaked document which proves it exists and explains how it works:
*If you don’t know who Jacob is, among many other things he was a core member who helped develop the Tor browser, and Tor as you’ll soon see is a guardian angel when it comes to user privacy and anonymity.
In addition, recently a hardware device was identified which can hack into just about any iPhone (even the iPhoneX) in a matter of minutes!
This whole section I believe has more than ample proof to establish the fact that even if the govt. doesn’t spy on you as an individual target, every individual still is at a major privacy risk regardless of him being a VIP or a homeless guy.
Also, the risk isn’t centred to the U.S or any individual country for the simple fact that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, iMessage, Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter or any other similar app or platform has global presence.
So let’s finally get down to building that privacy fortress for you and start preventing the govt. from spying on you.
How to Prevent the Govt. from Spying on You
Even though there’s no absolute, full-proof method of app to do so, it’s possible with the combination of a number of apps and practices.
The three primary tools you need right away are:
- Tor Browser. (Web Browser)
- TAILS (Operating System).
- A VPN.
TOR stands for “The Onion Router” and is a free browser developed with the primary aim of increasing user anonymity and privacy.
As already mentioned, Google and Google Chrome both track your browsing habits, keywords you search for, websites you visit, time you spend on each site and everything else. The same holds true for Yahoo, Internet Explorer or most other mainstream browsers.
It also prevents websites from spying on you and doesn’t reveal your physical location to the sites, which otherwise is known to them with the mainstream browsers.
How Tor basically works is it rotates your website requests via various nodes before finally relaying it off to the site, so the site doesn’t know the true identity of who exactly is requesting or where the request is coming from.
Also, these nodes too are only familiar with their immediate neighbours and not the whole circuit, so any individual node will only have knowledge of its previous node, and the node it relays the connection further to, but not of any previous of future nodes.
An even simpler explanation is, suppose you wish to go to a store (the website) but instead of going yourself, you ask one of your friends to ask one of his friends, ask one of his friends, to again ask one of his friends to go to the store, and none of these friends know each other except the ones who asked them, and the next friend they’re going to ask.
Simply download Tor, install it like any other application out there and start browsing without leaving all those trails and breadcrumbs. Note that Tor obviously lets you browse normal sites, but you also can use it to browse .onion sites on the Tor network and even access the Deeper/Darker side of the web.
You can further increase security for yourselves by clicking on that little “onion icon” on the top-bar, and then selecting “security settings” and finally sliding that slider all the way to the top!
Tor is a good browser but it’s crafted primarily for the Onion network. And because of all the routing and encryption the browsing speed is somewhat effected regardless of your internet speed.
What if it’s just the clearnet you wish to browse without risking your privacy? That’s where Brave browser comes in. It’s a browser which imitates the looks and feel of Google Chrome, minus the privacy-invading trackers and policies.
It’s capable of stopping and blocking not just trackers, but malware and other such threats as well. It’s built so that Brave servers never have access to user data, hence there’s nothing to sell. It also automatically deactivates harmful plugins, and prevents access to harmful sites.
The best part however is, it does all of that without compromising on your speed. Infact, if anything it promotes speed and claims to speed webpages up to 8 times faster than Chrome or Safari.
It’s open-source and has been audited and verified by a number of professionals across the globe. It has “shields” which block scripts, upgrade HTTPs, let you control cookies and much more.
Now note that it’s not the ultimate Anti-NSA firewall, yet is a safer and more private option than most other traditional browsers out there.
Just like Tor is an alternative to Chrome or I.E, similarly TAILS is an alternative for Windows or macOS.
Why do you need one? Well, did you know Windows 10 records everything you do on your computer? Including keystrokes! It’s like an inbuilt keylogger on the OS you paid money for!
TAILS on the other hand is completely free, and built keeping privacy and anonymity in mind. It’s a Live-OS meaning you can run it directly from a USB stick, or a DVD without having to boot (install) it formally like the other OS out there.
It forces every internet request to be made and routed only via TOR. It also comes pre-loaded with privacy-oriented alternatives for commonly used apps such as a browser, a messaging client, image editor, email client etc.
Because it’s a Live OS, it lets users do anything and everything they wish on a system without letting the parent OS know anything about it, or leaving any bit of trace of their actions.
TAILS doesn’t make use of the computer’s Hard-disk and rather functions on its RAM, hence when the system is shut down all data of what you did on the system using TAILS, or the fact that you even used TAILS on the system is gone forever.
A VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network” and in the simplest terms it’s an application which hides your real IP address and provides you a secondary IP address to connect to the Internet.
Kevin Mitnick the world renowned security expert and formerly most wanted hacker says- “The first thing I’d recommend to the average person on the street……use a VPN service”. (Source: https://youtu.be/T8aXx3K_lKY?t=360)
Another one of its functions is securing your internet traffic, which it does via a number of protocols. In simpler terms it basically wraps your traffic in envelops so they can’t be spied upon or eavesdropped!
There are a number of VPNs on the planet, some offer more countries and IP addresses to chose from, others offer more encryption protocols, some others may just be easier to use.
But in my personal opinion, NordVPN is in all aspects the best VPN which has a well-balanced price, extremely secure, is fast (it’s rare), has a no logs policy and offers IP addresses from 62 countries and boasts over 5252 servers worldwide!
Feel free to go with any other VPN if you feel it surpasses NordVPN in anyway, or fits your budget better.
One more thing you should know about the VPN, if you have DD-WRT or Tomato Firmware router then you can configure VPN on Router level and can run the encrypted network in your home.
Below I am giving you some VPN routers information that you can use in your home or office environment.
- Best VPN Router for Small Business
- Best DD-WRT Router List for Home or Small Office
- Best VPN Router for Home
- 4 Best Router for Tomato Firmware
Gmail and other mainstream e-mail clients read your mails on the excuse of providing better ads and experience; Protonmail doesn’t. It’s free, and anonymous.
Free as in it doesn’t cost money, anonymous as in the registration process is crafted in a way where you aren’t required to reveal your real name, location, or any such identifiable information.
It also doesn’t log your IP address, something which almost all mainstream E-mail clients do. As far as security goes, the encryption keys for the E-mails are stored on the client system making sure that the team can never access your E-mails, and so can’t anyone else.
It further encrypts the E-mails using SSL certificates, “Swiss” certificates to be specific which ensures that other dominating governments such as the U.S or E.U do not have any influence on the encryption.
It’s also armed up with a lot of advanced features such as Auto replies, custom filters etc. In a nutshell, it’s arguably the best anonymous alternative to Gmail that there is.
RicoChat is what comes to mind when you need an end to end communication app, but “secure”. For obvious reasons Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and other apps of the type can’t be relied upon.
RicoChat works on a completely anonymous infrastructure, it relies on the Tor network to send and receive messages instead of “Servers” eliminating the possibility of they being hacked or monitored.
Also there are no usernames and just randomly assigned contact Ids, something like “ricochet:ab32132assa2” hence it can’t ever be linked back to any individual specifically.
The messages are also completely wiped off the face of earth after a certain amount of time leaving nothing to be “recovered” by spies and third-parties at a later time.
Other Apps or Tools You can Use
Apart from the above-mentioned tools, there are a number of other apps you totally should consider switching to, atleast occasionally if your privacy is something you hold dear:
- DuckDuckGo: DuckDuckGo is to Search Engines what Tor is to Internet browsers. It’s an anonymous, privacy-respecting search engine which doesn’t log your activities, history, interests or searches. Something you totally should start using instead of Google. (Tip: use !g at the end of your DuckDuckGo searches to access the “Google” index without using Google, via DuckDuckGo’s encrypted page).
- SpiderOak: Edward Snowden says “Dropbox is hostile to privacy”, and suggests using SpiderOak instead which follows “zero-knowledge” policy and doesn’t have any access to user content.
- HTTPS Everywhere: It’s a browser extension which makes sure that the sites which have partial HTTPS implemented too are accessed only over HTTPS and never without it.
- Signal is a good alternative to Whatsapp, Messnger or any other such real-time chat service.
- Use CryptoCurrencies: Quite a few online stores today have started accepting Cryptocurrencies. Using CryptoCurrencies (primarily Bitcoin) is a lot more secure and anonymous than using your Credit/Debit cards or Paypal to make payments online.
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Some Other Practices of Protecting Yourselves from Govt. Spying
All the options above were technical changes you can make to the way you use the Internet, well there are some non-technical, physical-life oriented changes too which should help you avoid the govt. from spying on you.
- Cover your Microphones and Webcam: Sounds too stupid, doesn’t it? Well, Mark Zuckerburg does it, and if he’s afraid of the govt. and thinks this keeps them off, so should you.
- Social media: Delete social media! If that’s too extreme, post as less “identifying” information as possible, such as the food you’re eating, the places you’re travelling to, the people in your family, the problems you’re going through, and basically less of everything else.
- Don’t buy Smart TVs (yet)! Yeah, seems “conservative” but after reports of CIA being able to hack into Samsung Smart TVs, record audio even when the T.V is off and then hack into your WiFi, I believe “no Facebook on TV” is a small price to pay!
- Use Air-Gapped computers for really sensitive data and information. If you’ve got photos, videos or any other files you need to keep really safe, this is the most secure way to do so. Air Gapped system are systems which have never been, and supposedly never will be connected to the internet. They simply function as “storage” devices.
- Use PGP: PGP is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to encrypt communications. Start using PGP for just about every communication that you have online, personally encrypt E-mails (or any other types of communications) even when you use Gmail or other clients this makes them almost impossible to be decrypted without your private keys.
- Open Source: Above all, always make it a point to look for “open source” alternatives for apps and platforms, those are platforms which can be audited by anyone with the know-how to do so, making sure they really provide the security and anonymity that they claim. Open source apps are in general always more trustworthy than corporate-owned ones.
So that’s about it folks, let’s wrap this piece up.
So that’s about it folks. I’d just like to add that, no method is absolutely un-crackable, even air-gapped systems can be stolen physically. Hence it’s important to combine as many security measures as possible for everything that you do digitally.
Also, almost all the tools I’ve listed above are free, and those which aren’t cost no more than USD $20-50/year, an investment I’d say totally worth it considering what you’re purchasing, your privacy!
Do let me know if you’ve got other ideas to keep the govt. off our backs in the comments, and obviously drop your two cents as well on this piece and if you think it actually did help you in learning how to prevent the govt. from Spying on you.