So you’ve been hearing a lot about PRISM and how your conversations just might have been monitored of the government. Well, if you’re among the majority of people that support the NSA and its phone record digging for the sake of preventing terrorist attacks, then read no further. If you’re the 41 percent of U.S. citizens that actually care about your phone call privacy and 52 percent that care about the government snooping in on your emails, here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from the prying eyes of the U.S. government.
Granted that what the PRISM slide show says is true – which hasn’t been verifiable yet considering that technology firms have been denying their involvement in PRISM left and right – you have some options available, although they aren’t all convenient. In some cases, you’ll have to give up your go-to sites and apps.
We have to warn you that these recommendations aren’t fool-proof, so if the government really thinks you’re a terrorist and wants to know where you sleep, who you are, what you’re doing, what you’re browsing, who you’re talking to, among other personal details, they’ll find ways around it – probably even if that means digging through your trash.
But if you want to at least try to fly under the radar, you can start off with these methods.
If you really love your Verizon iPhone but are seriously concerned about being monitored, you can keep your phone, but we’d recommend you to pick up a burner phone. Yes, those cheap ones you see actors throw away after one or two uses in the movies. Or you might want to pick up a disposable phone number, which would mean purchasing a SIM. And of course use cash. There may be records of your calls but these calls can’t be tied to you, which is what matters at the end of the day. Also don’t forget to dispose of the burner phone since it’s tied to you location.
Assuming that Microsoft and Skype have been compromised, there are plenty of free alternatives out there. ooVoo has been around for some time and might be the next best alternative if you’re an avid Skype user, or you can opt for goober or VoxOx.
Messaging and VoIP-supporting apps like LINE, Tango, and Voxer might be right up your alley, although the latter two are based out of the United States, which means that they very may well comply to a FISA request.
Alternatively, for those of you that want to be extra careful, there are some free open source encrypted VoIP apps out there like WhisperSystem’s RedPhone, which encrypts calls from end-to-end and even uses your own phone number to make and receive calls. The caveat is that the app is only available on Android. For iOS users (and Android as well) we’d recommend SilentCircle, which also offers end-to-end encrypted calls, and Silent Eyes for encrypted VoIP on your desktop.
Google’s YouTube saves a history of the type of content you’re watching. If you’re watching bomb-making and 3D gun-printing videos, like every curious teenager has perhaps done once in their lives, then we’d advise that for starters, you log out of your Google account before doing so. At the same time, you’ll want to be using a proxy or VPN, which we’ll get into later.
For now, there are plenty of alternatives out there that haven’t been identified by the NSA. You can check out Vimeo, Veoh, Metacafe, Dailymotion, and of course Liveleak. There is life beyond YouTube, we promise.
Thankfully there are plenty of messaging alternatives out there. You could opt for LINE, Whatsapp, Nimbuzz, MessageMe, KakaoTalk for mobile messaging since AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Paltalk, and Google are likely compromised. But to be frank, these messaging platforms are probably not going to decline a legal request from the government to gain access to a user’s information. So really the best option here, since messaging is one of the key focuses of the government’s snooping efforts, is to encrypt your conversations.
Once again WhisperSystem has a text messaging service for Android phones called TextSecure. And SilentCircle offers an iOS app aptly called Silent Text. You’ll be able to dig around and find other end-to-end encryption messaging apps like Threema and soon-to-be-launched Redact.
A personal preference that doesn’t completely sacrifice the user experience is Pidgin, an end-to-end encrypted messaging client. The only way to unecrypt the messages that you send to the other party is if the government has access to their or your computer. The app is free, and it integrates with messaging services like GTalk, AIM, Yahoo, IRC, MSN, ICQ, Jabber, and others. However if you want to set up the end-to-end encryption chats the other user will need Pidgin installed as well. What’s fun is that you’ll notice that even if you’re technically using GTalk to talk to each other by way of Pidgin, your conversations show up in your GTalk window as garbled letters and numbers, which shows you first-hand that your messages are for the most part safe from prying eyes.
You can also try your hand at Trillian, which offers encrypted messaging with its SecureIM feature.
Facebook (and the Facebook-owned Instagram) and Google+ are out of the question. You’ve probably disclosed enough personal information about yourself on there already, but it’s time to cut the cord if you’re serious. Fortunately there are plenty of places where you can get your social networking fix. You might even find these options to be a breath of fresh air. There’s the obvious options, like LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Path. But really, these social networks serve somewhat of a different purpose, and in Path’s case the company gets audited by the FTC anyway so you might want to steer clear for now.
You might have heard of other other up-and-comers that once made a splash like Diaspora and App.net, but lesser known social networks like Zurker, Tagged, and Harnu might be able to satisfy your social media needs. They are more internationally focused, but hey, the benefit is you get a more global view of the Internet.
Encryption and browsing
First of all, you probably should avoid the services outlined by PRISM, but in case you’re being snooped on if you’re using Chrome for instance, you can start with downloading the EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere plugin for both Firefox and Chrome so you’re using HTTPS to surf the Web.
The next step can be to setting up a proxy or a VPN to mask your IP and location. There are multiple ways to do this. You might set one up using Google’s App Engine to create your own server, set one up for your browser using proxies from proxy-list.org, or even use Himachi to set up a proxy server that you’ll point your browser to.
Finally, you can always opt to use TOR and the TOR browser.
As for VPNs, there are plenty of services out there including Astrill, StrongVPN, or you could set one up for yourself using Amazon’s Web Services to mask your IP address. The latter will be a cheaper alternative, but technically advanced for most people.
File sharing and storage
Dropbox and Google Drive might be out of question. You can always switch to Box.com or other cloud storage services like Mega from Kim Dotcom, but to err on the side of caution – especially with hackers lurking – you can always take safety measures into your own hands and encrypt the files that you end up uploading to Dropbox or Drive. This means that even if someone ends up getting their hands on your files, they wouldn’t be able to crack it open. The most popular service for the job would have to be Boxcryptor and Cloudfogger. The more advanced users can try their hand at Truecrypt which will actually encrypt entire Windows drives. Or you might find other alternatives like SODA (free) and Egnyte (free-to-try, but pay to use), however the types of storage services that these platforms can encrypt files for vary.
Well, Gmail, Yahoo’s Mail service, Outlook, and even Apple are the hardest platforms to give up. But there are other options: You could try alternative email services Zoho Mail, Inbox.com, or opt for encryption-based services like Hushmail, and Mozilla’s email client, Thunderbird, which offers email encryption by way of an extension called Enigmail.
If you can’t give up your current inbox though, it’s OK – we know, that’s asking a lot. So there are a few third party clients that can help you send encrypted email. We’ll warn you, they aren’t super user-friendly, but they will get the job done.
Plugin services that you might want to check out in addition to Enigmail include Mailvelope for Chrome (and soon Firefox) (it works with Google Apps, Outlook, and Yahoo Mail), Trend Micro Email Encryption Client to encrypt Outlook emails, and SafeGmail.
Finally, while we’ve recommended proxies and VPNs to swap to other types of search engines since you don’t want to browse Google and Bing without protection, you can always check out DuckDuckGo and Blekko.
Since these methods might not be 100 percent guaranteed to protect you, let us know in the comments below if you have a personal favorite or an alternative.