More Tips for Keeping Your Privacy Intact
More Tips for Keeping Your Privacy Intact
We’ve already covered this kind of thing once or twice, but it bears repeating—and besides, we’ve got more things for you. All of the programs and tools listed below are free except where noted, many of them are open source (meaning anyone who understands code can verify that there are no nasty surprises or holes in it), and they have been personally tested by some of us here at VG. In my next article I’ll explain why you need to be using privacy, and answer some of the more common objections, including the “But I don’t do anything that I need to hide!” (I’ll give you a hint: if that’s your excuse for not protecting your privacy, then you are part of the reason why the rest of us choose to.) But never mind all that, let’s talk about how you can fix the problem and get off the federal radar—or at least make them work for the info they’re stealing. LOTS more after the fold.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
We mentioned this one before, but it really is a must-have. It encrypts and redirects all your internet traffic to look as though it is coming from and going to someplace other than where you are. The absolute best one for privacy is Private Internet Access. It’s highly affordable ($40 a year or $6.95 a month), and completely reliable, with great customer service. Not only that, but it’s so good that if you’re signed into one of the foreign VPN servers and you were to pull up Google, you will be given that country’s version of the website. Last week while testing this program Hulu Plus tried to tell me that “The show you are trying to access is not available in your region.” At the time I was running through a Romanian server.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t do all the same things you do normally. There are several US servers available if you need access to region-specific content such as Hulu or Netflix, and other servers if you want to do other things, such as engage in some secure chats (which we’ll get to in a second)—and it takes just two clicks to switch servers. You might think that bouncing your internet all over creation would result in slower speeds—but it doesn’t. I noticed no appreciable difference in any surfing, downloading, or streaming. PIA also has a “kill switch,” which means that you can set it up so that it will only allow internet access through the VPN.
What I found personally awesome is that it also supports cell phones—which means your phone internet thinks you’re in Switzerland, or Romania, or wherever else you feel like being. If you’re still dependent on your phone’s GPS and location services, or you feel the need to check into every location you’re at on Facebook, then you’re reading the wrong article. You should be reading all the other thousands of articles on the internet about why you need to stop letting your phone tell the world everything about you and your life. This article assumes that you already understand the problem and are looking to fix it…but I digress.
The best part about Private Internet Access is that they’re…well, private. Really private. From their website:
We absolutely do not maintain any VPN logs of any kind. We utilize shared IP addresses rather than dynamic or static IPs, so it is not possible to match a user to an external IP. These are some of the many solutions we have implemented to enable the strongest levels of anonymity amongst VPN services. Further, we would like to encourage our users to use an anonymous e-mail and pay with Bitcoins to ensure even higher levels of anonymity should it be required. Our core verticals are privacy, quality of service, and prompt customer support. We will not share any information with third parties without a valid court order. With that said, it is impossible to match a user to any activity on our system since we utilize shared IPs and maintain absolutely no logs.
So in short, “Sure they could try and subpoena our stuff but it won’t matter because we don’t have anything to show them, and if you use BitCoins to pay, then we don’t even know who you are.” I do advise that you use BitCoins to pay for the service (I’ll be writing a piece on this in the near future, but for now, if you’re not familiar with BitCoin you can use Vanilla Visa to pay anonymously). Once you’re done creating your account and paying, it literally takes only a few minutes to set up (a bit longer if you have multiple computers or phones) and you’re done. Sign in, pick a server somewhere (there are 698 of them spread across 9 countries), and move on to the next phase: setting up secure communications.
If you don’t have Countermail or another one of the few secure email services, then your email is probably being read. It’s pretty much become that simple. Countermail, like Private Internet Access, does not keep logs or personal information—and since they also accept BitCoin payments, it’s possible to have completely secure and anonymous email. It’s also based in Sweden…not the US. Here’s how Countermail works:
Countermail is $99 a year, or $19 every 3 months.
This nifty combo allows you secure instant messaging, with both encryption and identity verification. This means that instead of sitting on Facebook having a three-way conversation between you, your friend, and the NSA, you can enjoy a conversation that is literally just between you and the person you actually want to talk to.
Swiss Jabber is not located in the United States—which means the Department of Justice can’t get their grubby little hands on it easily. In addition, they don’t keep logs, and neither does your chat client, so again it’s a moot point anyway.
Pidgin is an IM client that can use many different accounts (AOL, Facebook, Gmail, and even ICQ to name a few), but what you really want out of this is called OTR–off the record messaging. So, get a copy of Pidgin, but don’t start adding your Facebook and Google Chat accounts to it because they’re still as transparent as ever. In fact,
Once you have a copy of Pidgin, you can add an XMPP account (email@example.com). Under the Tools>Plugins menu, you’ll find Off the Record Messaging. Add that to your install, and it will allow you to have private and secure conversations. (There is documentation that goes into much more detail if you run into problems!) Pidgin, SwissJabber, and IM+ (the mobile phone client) are all free. Off the Record messaging is $4.99 if you install it to use on your phone but free on the computer.
So let’s recap: If you’ve done everything advised up to this point, you’re running a VPN so your internet traffic looks like it’s anywhere but where you are, and now you’re also running a chat client that allows you to encrypt your messages and verify the identity of the person you’re speaking with. Not too shabby, right? There’s another piece of the puzzle, however, and this might be the best one of all.
TrueCrypt allows you to encrypt “volumes” (basically, folders and virtual drives for you newbies), flash drives, or even your entire hard drive. The standard of encryption is so high that the FBI was unable to crack a drive encrypted with TrueCrypt, and finally returned it after a year of trying. TC also has some built-in protections for those who are worried that they could be forced (through extortion, violence, or other nefarious means) to reveal their encryption passwords. It allows you to hide an encrypted volume inside another volume or drive, almost like a secret compartment inside the secret room. If you’re forced to reveal the encryption password, they still can’t find the hidden volume. In fact, TrueCrypt even supports running an entire operating system inside your encrypted volume. While I didn’t get that deep into it while testing it, I did run a hidden volume inside a standard one, and inside the hidden volume I was running portable versions of an IRC chat client and other programs. When the volumes were ‘dismounted’ (closed and locked), there was no evidence of the programs even existing on my computer. I was running AES-Twofish-Serpent encryption, which means the following:
Each 128-bit block is first encrypted with Serpent (256-bit key) in XTS mode, then with Twofish (256-bit key) in XTS mode, and finally with AES (256-bit key) in XTS mode. Each of the cascaded ciphers uses its own key.
That’s some pretty tight security for your financial information, your home possessions inventory, your food and ammo inventory, your prized lasagna recipe, the list goes on. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what you’re using TC for, if you’re not breaking any laws then you have the right to keep your information private and safe from the prying eyes of the federal government.
The absolute best part of TrueCrypt is, it’s free. It has very clear explanations, good documentation, and an excellent website.
If you’ve read all the way to the end of this article, then you must care at least a little about your privacy and security. Check out the tools I listed above, and give them a try. You can have secure internet, email, and chat for about $150 a year, and believe me when I tell you that it’s worth it. If you’re still not sure if these are for you, stay tuned. In my next article I’ll explain why you should already be using them.