Unless you’ve been hiding in some mountaintop religious monastery you’ve already heard the news about the NSA spying on millions of Americans. This should have been a headline back in 2006 when the program started but I guess mass indignation is better late than never.
Let’s face it, the government isn’t the only entity spying on you these days and hiding from these all pervasive services is becoming both increasingly difficult and inconvenient. Personally, I like being able to whip out my phone and see where I am in relation to where I’m going. Yet every time I do that I’m sharing my location and activities with an array of businesses that include my cell provider, Google, and probably another half-dozen companies looking over my electronic shoulder.
Going completely dark on your data trail is possible, but it’s extremely difficult and really inconvenient. The good news is that, unless you really are trying to hide from the government, it’s fairly easy these days to mask parts of your digital trail. You don’t have to hide all of it, just enough to muddy the waters and leave gaps in your digital life. There are some simple and free tools out there that can make Big Brother snooping a lot more difficult.
Tor used to be somewhat difficult to install and use but now adding it to your browser is pretty easy. Since the Tor network is open, anyone can establish a relay and monitor traffic coming and going on the node. You can bet that every major government on the planet is running a Tor node but that really doesn’t matter because you’re not using Tor to hide secrets from the NSA, you’re using Tor to keep your internet service provider from knowing all your business.
Tor sets up an encrypted link from your computer to the relay router and all your ISP sees is the encrypted connection. It’s none of Comcast’s business where you surf, right? You don’t have to use Tor for everything you do, just the things that aren’t anyone else’s business.
TrueCrypt is industrial strength, state of the art encryption that will even slow down the most seasoned government spy agency. You can use it to encrypt entire drives, including the boot partition, or create smaller encrypted containers that you can store safely online, on your computer, a thumb drive or even email them around. If your data gets stolen it’s useless without the passphrase.
TrueCrypt has one really neat feature and that’s the ability to nest encrypted containers. One password opens up the outer container and second secret pass phrase opens up the inner secret container. So, if you’re being waterboarded at GITMO you can give up the outer container password and no one knows the secret container is even there.
JavaScrypt turns this:
This is a secret message. Don’t read me Big Brother!
Into this (the passphrase is “digizd” if you want to try it out):
##### Encrypted: decrypt with http://www.fourmilab.ch/javascrypt/
ZZZZZ XNKLE MMUBX XJHTT USFFX SVUEP WAFQI PLLDH TMFEX PTMTX HULAD
UDXXC EHPKW XMRWO IUOWG HEOHW LAMCP FQFLA JMKWR PFTXR AISQK EUGIG
XTEHF OQUVC OQCCV AMNJG HPKPS ASDNS BGTQX MHJAI KDFVL VUWGD DTWJR
AHRLR KCWJU OUGHR FILOV MUDNV MBBRQ GCZZZ YYYYY
##### End encrypted message
It’s not bulletproof encryption but it would take a real person computer time and effort to decrypt it. Again, you don’t have encrypt every message, just the ones you want to make Big Brother work for.
If you want to encrypt your cell phone calls from the prying eyes of the government, there are new commercial solutions like SilentCircle that can encrypt your voice, text and emails for a flat annual fee. The downside is that unless both parties subscribe to SilentCircle, only your side of the conversation is encrypted, but at least it’s your half.
I believe our government is about to find out the hard way that the more pervasive and widespread snooping becomes, the more likely it will motivate people to explore their options for encryption. The encryption you employ doesn’t even have to be all that bulletproof, just inconvenient to crack. If enough people do just that, it will keep the codebreakers at the NSA busy for a long time trying crack grandma’s cookie recipe.