Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Panoptic Existentialism – No Thanks; Resistance 101

by EIA

Awareness, Implementation, Maintenance – AIM
I also recommend playing the following song looped while reading this article. The Police – Too much information

Many of us are either already aware, or becoming aware of our new and unprecedented surveillance society. Still, many remain unaware, and of the exceptions amongst us who are, many have yet to do much about it. In this compressed article, I will impart my own experience in a way which I hope will help those interested in pro-actively doing something about this massive incursion of privacy. Because not everyone has time to learn the subject of IT, and because I have much to learn myself, this article will attempt to provide not-too-complex and direct suggestions which will help interested individuals to fortify their privacy. Some things may be obvious, and some things may seem obscure. Either way, there is bound to be something useful, and anything here can be understood with a little effort. Before proceeding, consider bookmarking this article for future reference – it can be a lot to take in, and has an abundance of hyperlinks.


Your ISP is basically where everything begins and ends. Those who follow IT-news should be well aware of new laws which force ISPs to retain user data for 12 months and longer. While ISPs hardly had to be forced to do such things, there are no exceptions once made a law. Because your personal interests are your own business – regardless of who assists you – quite a few tools have been designed by privacy advocates to help protect you. By default, our ISPs use their own DNS. DNS is what allows us to use easily remembered words/letters to access an IP address by entering a domain name (www.activistpost.com) instead of an IP ( – a little harder to remember. Not only do ISPs record every DNS query, they sometimes manipulate them, and other dubious things. Although some ISPs try to prevent you from using an alternate DNS, you can still try.

Google is used for the majority of internet searches. Everything ever done through google is permanently logged. This fact justifies mentioning their strong connections with law-enforcement, third parties, and even the CIA and NSA. To help fortify your data against such insatiable data gluttons and opportunists, there are many tools available. I will list a few that are easy to use.

Scroogle: Scrapes google and provides search results to you without recording your IP. Scroogle does this through https as well, which differs from google’s in that google has the key to their own https, and it only protects against other non-google spies. To learn more about the darker side of google, visit googlewatch.

Ixquick: Essentially does the same thing, though not as well as scroogle. But it offers a very convenient option to enter websites via proxy, but forbids entering text while doing so. Useful, but not perfect.

Duckduckgo: Another search engine which not only forgets your IP, but uses ssl (https), and provides pretty good results.

Tor, and other proxies: Proxies allow you to use other computers to take responsibility for your traffic. They do this by using their own IP to conduct your traffic, protecting your IP from the websites you visit. Their are many free web-based proxies which require no additional configurations. Web-based proxies are convenient, but do leak data. While this certainly does not make them not worth using, it is something to consider, and they definitely help. Configuring your system to use proxies for all protocols is a bit more complex, and more effective. However, even this has leaks. I will leave it up to you to look further into that if you wish. For general purposes of privacy, the proxy is fantastic.

Email: Perhaps the largest hole in our privacy; it provides spies with voluminous details about our personal affairs, and more. Much of this data is filtered through Artificial Intelligence to be mined for relevant details which are not practically gathered by humans. My personal view is that this data is substantially more intricate and substantial than we realize. The only ways to mitigate this effluent is to either use your own personal email server, or to encrypt your email with something like PGP. Tutorials on this can be found in abundance, and I strongly recommend taking the time to learn all about it. The 180 days Stored Communications Act may help motivate you, and can be read about here. Encryption is being outlawed in many countries, including France. If we do not use it, we will certainly lose it. Also, for a lecture on laptop (etc.) search and seizure, see here, and here (both youtube).

Persistent Cookies: Insidious, transfatty, and unhealthy; such things as LSOs and Kissmetrics are still overlooked by many. Too many people think that by deleting their cache (temporary internet files), that they have removed tracking cookies, and are enhancing their privacy. This is simply not true. Adobe LSOs (flash cookies) are stored outside of your browser folder, and deleting your cache has no effect upon them. There are several tools to help deal with this issue – the easiest being the simple browser addon Better Privacy and Flashblock (Adblock). Another – but sometimes irritating – addon is the EFF’s NoScript. This is an extremely effective application, and is highly recommended.

Your Hosts File & Unsolicited Traffic: Through your hosts-file, entire IP ranges can be blocked by redirecting them to your loopback address. For example, the entire IP range of doubleclick.com can be instructed for redirection to your loopback address (dead end) by adding an entry into your hosts file, which you might consider the door-man of your network. Explanation and directions can be viewed here.

Routers: If you own your router, consider dd-wrt Linux firmware. Since this is only the router, it does not effect the operating system you use. This is high-quality firmware which offers a much more rich set of features than a typical out-of-the-box router. A big part of security takes place at your router. Also, if interested, read the MAC section of my article regarding MAC-addresses, Verizon routers, and possible spy-ware. Also, for those who wish to avoid Cisco for many possible reasons(pdf), dd-wrt is a great possibility. For those interested in learning about how cellphones are triangulating your wireless router, please consider Skyhook (Has CIA connection). While there is no practical or easy method of preventing this, it is very much worth your attention.

Social Networks and the Cloud:
Concisely, the cloud should be avoided but for the two extremes. These two extremes are as follows:
1. That which is extremely insignificant. Anything which you neither value the privacy of, or volatility of. If it is something that is very important to you, keep a hard-copy.
2, That which is extremely personal. If for example you must travel with extremely personal data, you wouldn’t want certain scoundrels perusing it or modifying it upon suspiciousless seizure. Therefor you must encrypt it and store it the cloud to be later retrieved at a safe location – after you’ve arrived safely at your destination.

Social networks are becoming the scabies-infested mattress of every branch of authority in existence, and people are waiting in line to roll all over them. At best, many of those busy at monitoring them have no idea of what they are doing. At worst, they are eager to exploit and exaggerate any bit of data they can find that will assist them in contriving a patsy for PR, or some other silly agenda. Exercise caution, and discretion. Consider alternative social networks which do not grovel at the feet of TPTB.

The internet is not beyond understanding, but it is complex, and is only becoming more complex. There are many things we can do without getting a PhD in IT that will help provide a cleaner internet experience.

Telecommunication | VOIP:

Whether you use a smartphone, skype, or a plain old cellphone; all of these have major problems. I personally think the only reason RFID chips have not been more aggressively pushed is because cellphones are actually far more effective. They track a user’s every movement via GPS, or cell-tower triangulation, and are open to “lawful intercept” at the whim of any authoritarian-schizophrenic with the authorization or desire to do so – which is quite seriously, a much more prevalent practice than most realize. Oddly, and quite unlike the RFID, this divulgence of information has been entirely voluntary, albeit through ignorance. This is rather difficult to do anything about, as the very nature of the cellphone necessitates tracking in order to provide services. For this I can only suggest re-evaluating our own psychologies, and asking ourselves if we really need to have our cellphones perpetually by our sides, or at least consider whether they need to remain constantly on when with us. As a discipline, we might consider removing the battery when not is use or when not expecting our next call from the POTUS.

663 million registered users: Skype, once upon a time was pretty solid, even prompting the NSA to offer billions to get behind the proprietary technology. While due to the nature of its encryption (no packet-padding), Skype has always leaked info (pdf); but only to more sophisticated spies. What advantages Skype once had, are now fading – if not gone for good. Not only has Microsoft purchased Skype, not long before doing so, they filed a patent for VOIP “legal intercept”. Microsoft has a history of breaching user’s privacy for the sake of “law enforcement”, and in my opinion, should never, ever, be trusted. Unfortunately, there are no immediately practical alternatives to Skype, but they do exist, and their practicality largely depends on your interest and willingness to use them. The introduction of VOIP has been a big concern to spies, and not only is it potentially much more difficult to compromise, up until our recent national state of legal-anarchy, it operated under a different set of laws. Things are changing.

Operating Systems:

Most people use Windows. Some people use Mac. I use Linux. All of these operating systems can be made reasonably secure, and provide some measure of privacy. It is my own personal conviction however, that Linux offers the most in this respect. While I urge everyone to consider Linux as a free, and extremely powerful OS, you will ultimately use your OS of choice – or necessity. For those considering moving from Windows to Linux, I highly recommend Linux Mint. Anyone interested but confused is most welcome to post questions in my comment section, and I will diligently do all I can to help.

I will say that I believe Linux is the least vulnerable to corruption. Microsoft has committed acts of treachery, and Apple has also been exploring the vistas of censorship and perhaps other things. Now don’t get all upset; I know both Microsoft and Mac have many positive attributes, and for certain applications their is no reasonable alternative. But,.. Let us at least be aware of certain things.

While it is important to realize that there is no practical means to completely secure your communications, a little effort can still be very effective at eliminating a majority of info-parasites. Such things as biometrics are beyond practical mitigation, and will be primarily addressed through laws, counter innovations, and popular activism. Lets do what we can, while we can.

For those who found this article inspiring, or for anyone else interested not only in privacy, but the health of the internet as we know it, I can recommend no better single source than the EFF.

Skype may expose users to malicious code – The Register

Distantly related: A great essay on pseudonymity @ schneier

*AIM = Mockery of certain imaginative acronyms created by the over-employed

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