This guest post is authored by Kim DeLisle, a blogger for www.securethoughts.com. Kim says: “I am so excited to be writing for Wassom.com. This website is a great source for information and interesting opinions. In particular I think readers would be well-informed by this piece which also touches on the topic of internet surveillance.”
Your data use is a private matter that should not be the concern of any other organization or person. Unless you are using the internet for harmful and illegal purposes, no one else has any right to breach your privacy. Even in those cases, there are proper channels and proper authorities to look into things.
It also does not seem to be getting any better no matter where you are. For whatever justification, surveillance is increasing and more programs are being developed to automate the process. Hackers and other cybercriminals are getting more sophisticated and more organized as the profitability of cybercrime rises. Other organizations seek to profit from your data and do so through legal loopholes and the indifference of the masses.
Here are some things you should know:
Hackers and Network Administrators
While you are on your home network, it is rather difficult for other individuals to get ahold of your data usage information, but while you are using an unprotected public network (or a network with weak protection like WEP), it is quite easy for them to do so. All they have to do is sit down and set up an extremely easy to use piece of equipment, after which they intercept all data that travels over the network. This includes your passwords, financial data, and personal data, making this type of threat the most immediately problematic and a threat to your well-bring.
A corrupt or otherwise ill-intended network administrator works in roughly the same fashion, using their position in the area to access and intercept anything that is happening on their network. The only problem is that they are often worse to notice or deal with because they, as the administrator, have full control over the network and are supposed to be there. Other networks are set up in places where’d you’d expect a free hotspot but instead are just trying to lure you in and take everything.
Depending on what country you happen to be residing in, the levels of internet restriction and surveillance can range from very little to it being an utter surprise that you are able to read this article right now. While there are protections in place for the sake of your privacy, there are also many loopholes and secret programs that mean that you aren’t nearly as safe as you think you are.
It should be noted that most methods the government use involve the tracing or tracking of your IP address in order to know what you are doing and where you are. In other cases, they will request files from websites and companies that you use, some of which are more cooperative than others. Try to watch which websites you use, and be aware that someone could be scanning or watching at all times.
Social Media Data Mining
Are you aware of what the major social media websites are doing with your data? There are numerous algorithms in use that inform them just how to target you with advertisements, what to show you, and much of it is willfully given to advertisers and other companies that will analyze it for future use. It has even gotten to the point where credit card companies use your social circles to help determine whether you would be a credit risk or not.
While there are few options available to you to defend yourself actively from this other than to not use social media sites (the isolation of which can cause a host of other problems), you can try to educate yourself on the various methods used and how companies use that data, so that you are more aware in knowing how you are being manipulated by the system. If you are so inspired, you can also take political action and speak your voice on the matter.
Virtual Private Networks and Other Defenses
Fortunately for your rights and for your privacy, there are ways that you can properly defend yourself from organizations and individuals trying to snoop on your data usage. The best tool for this is currently a Virtual Private Network (VPN), a common and perfectly legal tool originally developed for businesses so employees could access work files from home but later developed for consumer use. What it will do is connect your device (computer or smartphone) to an offsite secure server that will handle your requests for you. This is done over an encrypted connection, and you can choose the location of the server you connect to.
The main thing it will help to do to maintain your privacy is hide your IP address so that organizations and governments won’t be able to track you. This has the added benefit of allowing you to bypass regional restrictions and other government censorship on your connection, as you can make it look as if you are browsing in another country. To deal with hackers on public networks, the encrypted connection blocks them out so that the only thing they’ll be able to tell is that you are using a public network.
You may also want to try some other methods in the unlikely event that a VPN isn’t working out for you. While it will attract the attention of governments, using Tor is still a great way to maintain your privacy online and remains in use by many professionals. Others still might try to use a simple proxy server to maintain their privacy; although those are often lacking any security features and are rather unreliable. No matter your choice, it is important to make an effort of some kind and take a stand for your own defense.
Thank you for reading, and I hope that you are more aware of the ways your data privacy is under attack.