Most people know the National Security Agency (NSA) can peek into a good deal of our digital data, from E-mails and Facebook messages to our online searches, but less people probably know how to stop them (or at least slow them down). Perhaps the most surprising source of that information, an NSA hacker working for the division of Tailored Access Operations (TAO), recently revealed ways to people can protect themselves from NSA hacking attempts.
Rob Joyce, nicknamed the “Hacker-In-Chief,” is the head of this mysterious NSA division which has the capability to hack routers, network firewalls, and more according to the documents released several years ago by Edward Snowden. Wired explained that the NSA likes to target computer system administrators and others with high privileges who might be “gatekeepers,” so to speak. Once the admin’s credentials are gained, the NSA can infiltrate others on the same network.
So, how can you deal with this and protect your information? Joyce recommends that you assume even small vulnerabilities in the system can be a problem. Hackers like the NSA and foreign computer experts like to exploit these small openings, so nothing is too small for them.
There are also a slew of different applications and software that can protect your privacy. Cryptocat allows users to have private, encrypted chats online, though it’s possible the NSA is able to break the encryption. This software can also be set up to directly connect to your Facebook, allowing you to send and receive messages privately to prevent NSA snooping.
TOR (The Onion Router) is another useful tool for protecting your privacy, though it’s not safe to assume you are completely invisible when using it. TOR Browser encrypts your traffic so it’s harder to track, but if an attacker like the NSA learns you’re using TOR, they may be able to track you. For this reason, it’s often better to combine TOR with other software such as a VPN if you’re concerned about your privacy.
DuckDuckGo is another useful website that can hide your information from prying (NSA) eyes. This search engine is built to be privacy-friendly, and actually has built-in features which play nicely with TOR. It works the same way as Google or any other search engine would, only it doesn’t track your searches. It also has a trigger word that lets you search Google or another search engine, and will encrypt your search, which is perfect if you’re very used to your search engine of choice.
Joyce proposed users to protect their data from the NSA by only granting high-ranking privileges to those who really need them, as ABC News reported. For more everyday users, this could mean not sharing passwords with friends (either digitally or otherwise), and making only a single trusted person an Administrator on a shared computer.
Another option for keeping the NSA out of your personal information is to use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. VPN’s protect your IP Address, which can reveal your location, by running your traffic through a “tunnel.” This allows you to disguise your location by running the IP Address through a connection from any city the VPN serves. It’s important to note, though, that VPN’s sometimes collect user data, and will of course turn it over to the government if legally obligated to do so.
So, what’s the best option for protecting your privacy online? While nothing is 100 percent foolproof, combining a variety of privacy-protection tools might be your safest bet. Using the TOR Browser as an example, each “layer” of software you add will protect your privacy, so using a VPN with TOR is more powerful than TOR alone.
[Image Via Psyomjesus, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY SA 4.0]