There have been three types of reactions to Edward Snowden’s shocking PRISM (and other) revelations: (a) He is hero who is sacrificing himself for the people of his country (b) He is a backstabber and undoing the hard-work of America’s security agencies (c) Who is Edward Snowden?
The first two are personal opinions and best not debated. For the benefits of those in the third category, Mr. Snowden is an ex-employee of CIA and NSA who released large amounts of classified information revealing the magnitude of unsolicited surveillance his employers had been carrying out on American and global citizens.
Just a glance at the findings from his leaks should send alarm bells ringing for all of us. It’s a reminder to give our digital security its due importance.
This article aims to make you aware of the 4 severe threats to your online privacy, tell you why you should be careful, and educate you on exactly how to exploit the following tools to guard your online privacy from all angles:
- IP Address Hider – See Full Review
- Virtual Private Network (VPN) – See Full Review
- MAC Address Changer – See Full Review
Threats to our online privacy
Online industry experts and insiders have long believed that governments and their agencies track online activities of people from all over the world without their consent and knowledge. Whistle-blowers like Snowden have regularly reaffirmed this claim.
It is a discomforting thought that every keystroke on our Internet-connected devices might be monitored. Our Internet privacy seems to be at the discretion of people in power.
Internet-based service providers, like broadband companies, search engines, browsers, online data sharing and backup services etc. are potential threats to your online privacy.
You must have heard of security threats related to browser cookies, cloud storage and data mining. Google has often been in the firing line for reading emails, Apple has been accused of giving the NSA a ‘backdoor entry’ on its devices and many other such examples of online activities tracking exist. The more intimate interactions you have with a service provider’s technology, the more capable they are of compromising your Internet privacy.
The latest and the most open threat to our online security are social networking sites. Some of us are guilty of posting private experiences on sites like Facebook. It makes us a sitting duck for data mining / sharing – both at the hands of these companies and cyber criminals, and sometimes, even our personal acquaintances.
There have been claims about unsolicited sales of your social sharing data to marketers and government agencies. Although there is no definitive proof for this, the likelihood is strong.
While all others are passive threats to online safety, cybercrimes are a direct attack on our privacy. Hackers trying to steal our passwords are common news. So are the cases of identity and monetary thefts.
However, cybercrimes are not just limited to direct thefts. Spyware, malware, viruses etc. are all examples of attempts to compromise our online life.
Why you should be careful
Whenever we initiate the topic of online safety the most common reply we get is, ‘I don’t need to be worried, I have nothing to hide.’ Yet, when we promptly ask them to handover all their passwords, nobody obliges!
Privacy is not a matter of hiding our wrongdoings. It’s our basic right. As UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay pointed out, ‘Internet privacy is as important as human rights’.
Can you remember how many websites you have entered your credit card numbers on? Can you try recalling how many payments you made through online transfer? Tough, isn’t it? Now, what if we tell you that one such activity was hacked and your financial details are sitting at the desktop of a cybercriminal? The panic is understandable.
If you think we are just trying to scare you to prove a point, please take five minutes and search for ‘online crime cases’ on Google. You will find a flurry of instances with financial figures running into multiple digits. You will even find names, interviews and agony stories of countless fellow citizens. Learn from these examples before you turn into one yourself.
If financial losses don’t scare you, then how about identity losses? The only thing worse than being looted by cybercriminal is being misrepresented as a cybercriminal.
It’s obvious that cybercriminals work under disguise. In most cases, they hack the identity of a casual Internet user like you (through mediums like spyware) and fire their guns over your shoulders. The more easily accessible your personal information is, the more susceptible you are to these identity thefts.
People have lost their Social Security numbers, have been wrongly fired from jobs, and even been jailed for failing to prove their innocence in cybercrimes.
The commodity treatment
The sheer behavior of companies and authorities treating our online life as a commodity that can be sold to marketers is disrespectful and unacceptable. Even if we do enter our personal information on social networks or other sources, it’s still ours, and nobody has the right to use it without our consent.
The notion of ‘nobody wants my data’ is naïve. Online privacy attacks are rampant and potentially lethal. Every day you are updating your digital footprint, making you more accessible to attackers. Unless you take adequate security measures, the violation of your online privacy will remain a ticking bomb.
How to safeguard yourself
Having understood the importance of securing our digital existence, let’s now look at the ways in which we can safeguard ourselves from the praying eyes.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
The most commonly used medium to eavesdrop on your online actives is by hacking / accessing the Internet network itself, especially in case of public networks like Wi-Fi hotspots at cafes, airport
etc. The simple and highly effective solution for this is using VPN.
In simple terms, VPN acts as safety net between the source network (ISP) and the websites that you visit. All the data you enter is encrypted and transferred over secure channels. It’s an absolute must-have addition to your network plan.
To take the advantage of VPN, you should have a remote VPN server set up & configured, you can do it yourself or just employ some reliable VPN service such as HideMyAss. We recommend ordinary users with no technical background make use of HideMyAss as their VPN service, HMA is the absolute number one brand in VPN market, who has been dedicated to internet anonymity since 2005. HMA has client application on Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, etc. You can find a detailed review of HideMyAss here.
Another popular method of protecting your online identify is surfing through proxy IPs using tools like Hide My IP Address. These simple tools generate random IPs every time you log in and thus keep making tracking difficult. We do not recommend free proxy servers because the free proxies themselves may not safe at all, some of them even set up by hackers and scammers. The traffic encryption feature of Hide My IP is highly valued here and you can find more in this detailed review of Hide My IP Address.
Many people think that the use of IP Hider (and other such tools) is limited to accessing blocked websites at schools, work etc. That’s just an added advantage, proxy IPs are best suited for maintaining Internet privacy while using public networks.
Traffic Analysis Protection
Many popular website (especially e-commerce portals) use traffic analysis (internet surveillance) to offer customized solutions to its visitors. There is nothing wrong in that. But unfortunately, the use of this technology is being extended for reading people’s chats and other forms of online communication.
Thankfully there are solutions like Tor, which is free software that creates anonymous network for secure communication. We strongly suggest using tor for confidential interactions.
Lastly, we would like to re-emphasize the importance of good Internet security practices like using strong passwords, enabling two-layer security wherever possible, not leaving confidential data in cloud, monitoring browser cookies etc.
To summarize, your digital life is an important as your real life. The threats are real and come from all directions. The onus is on you to stay on guard against the unsuspected attempts to steal our data, money and identify.
Every now and then whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden will come and risk their lives to reinforce the need to protect our online identity. But remember that they are just acting as alarm bells that go off after the security breach. We are the real players who need to act to minimize the risk of break-ins at your online homes.