Making the NSA (and others) have to work harder to get your information

file-334658020With the terrifying realization last week of a leak within the National Security Agency (NSA), the top thing on everyone’s mind is how to protect the information they didn’t even know the government was accessing in the first place.

What’s worse, the NSA says that they can’t guarantee more leaks won’t happen in the future. So not only are they capturing data on the sites you browse, emails you receive, and purchases you make, but all of that could also get leaked to the public.

What effect might this have on you?

Even if you feel like you’ve got nothing to hide, there are still things that you don’t want to potentially get leaked: credit card information, social security numbers, personal health information, etc.

At this point, there’s not much we can do about what they are doing, but here are a few tips to make it harder for them to decipher what it is that they do collect:

    • Using a secure (HTTPS) connection encrypts every web page you visit. It is available as an add-on for Firefox, which you can download here. There are other solutions available, however, if Firefox is not your default browser. Just keep in mind this only works on sites that support SSL, but will take the guesswork of those that do.
    • Since we’re talking about encryption, both Macs and PCs come with a preinstalled encryption service. Bitlocker (PC) and FileVault (Mac) both serve to protect your personal data from outside sources. An easy way to think about encryption is that it basically translates your information into a kind of different language, one in which only you have the potential to translate back into English. Because your computer already has these encryption vaults installed, this is a fairly simple step to take.
    • Finally, most major email systems provide a free encryption service for you. It is easy to turn this encryption on, simply go to your security settings, or search through the FAQ’s.

Beyond the NSA lies Google, Facebook and others..

Although it is hard to justify the NSA’s use of Internet stalking, tracking web use via Cookies has proven to be a very helpful marketing tool. What is cookie tracking? You can read about cookies in Detail on Wikipedia, but here is the layman’s version:

Remember the last time you were online shopping for something, and the next day an ad for that same thing popped up in your Facebook account? That ad was brought to you because of a little bit of info stored on your computer by the site you visited (called a cookie). Companies like Amazon and Facebook track the things that you are browsing, and uses that data to cater ads that are relevant to your needs.

It’s in your cell phone, camera and more..

Nordstrom has recently admitted to tracking its customer’s smart phones while they’re shopping in their stores. They use this data to see how long customers are shopping, which aisles they spend the most time in, etc.

Unless you’ve turned it off, every photo you take on your smart phone has a specific geographic location encrypted in it. There’s an app that is able to decode the photos you have taken and can give a third party information on where you were when you took those pictures.

Privacy is not just for the paranoid..

You need to keep in mind that desiring to protect yourself and your privacy online does not mean that you have something to hide. It is important for everyone to pursue some sort of Internet security. Having been the victim of credit card theft both online and offline, I can tell you first hand that prevention is always a better option than trying to clean up a mess that’s already happened.

Spread The Word!

About the Author

Though his chief ambition is to one day control the entire Internet, Jim busies himself in the meantime running our little web development and marketing agency. He's a certified super nerd who ranks coding in old, outdated languages and watching Star Trek reruns just a bit too high on his list of fun things to do. Outside of work, Jim enjoys Hockey (Tampa Bay Lighning, to be specific), more genres of music than most people realize exist, riding his Harley (he calls it "two wheel therapy") and exploring the world through travel.