Tag Archives: Privacy

Freeing Yourself from Google’s Gmail

Gmail FrustrationIn a previous post I was writing about weaning myself off of Google. Well let me tell you, it is not easy. Harder than I even imagined it would be. Actually it is a major pain in the ass!

For this experiment I opted for a Yandex email address as my new main personal email. It has an easy to use interface and the ability to sync other emails (such as my Gmail) with it. The interface is clean and pretty good. The URL has “neo2″ in the path when logged in so I am assuming it is based on OpenWebMail somehow. Which is fine with me.

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Big News Sites Track Us Too

I was reading a Wired article today titled, “Amid NSA Outrage, Big Tech Companies Plan to Track You Even More Aggressively” and commented that they too track the heck out of people with a whopping 30 trackers (4 social networks and 26 tracking companies!). Ironically the comment was not approved. It seems that the very news sites that are writing news on the NSA and Internet companies tracking us are doing the very same thing!?

Wow @WIRED seems to be one of the worst. Tracked by 4 social networks and 26 other companies! #privacy pic.twitter.com/yFhZ00FNnj

— Jascha (@jascha) October 8, 2013

Screenshot from 2013-10-08 13:04:21

Even The Guardian has a whole lot of tracking going on:

Screenshot from 2013-10-11 10:23:36

 

Oh sweet irony!!!!

Weaning Off Google – The First Step

google_msn_yahoo-fish-cartoonThey say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well folks I am here to say I have one…

It’s my Google-ification!

Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with Google. More that I had the epiphany that I am up to my eyeballs in it.

The other night I started pondering what all I use and how (or if) it is connected to Google. Just have a look at your Google Dashboard and you might be surprised! Here is a short list of things I use that are all Google…

  • GMail
  • Android
  • Google Voice
  • YouTube
  • GTalk
  • Google+
  • AdSense
  • Google Docs/Drive
  • Picasa
  • Analytics
  • Search

With the above just being the key points! I am way deep in the sea of Google. So what is a guy to do???

Firstly the easiest thing for me to change behavior wise is not search using Google. I have changed my Chrome to use DuckDuckGo as default for search. A few other good alternatives are:

Next installment I will be switching over my Gmail to an alternative.

Safe and Secure Browsing Through Home Computer

I have found a little OpenSSH switch to be one of my best friends. If I am at a strange client network, cafe, or conference I use “-D” to make me feel warm and fuzzy all over. In OpenSSH if you use this switch you create an SSH SOCKS proxy on the port you specify. Thus encrypting your traffic to the SSH server you specify. In my case I connect to my home computer using a free DYNDNS (http://www.dyndns.com/) dynamic DNS name mapped to my home computer that stays on.

Example:

$ssh -D 6666 username@ip-address-of–your-ssh-server

Then you simply point your browser or other programs like IM to that port (in example 6666) on localhost and you can browse from your home computer free of snooping or any potential malicious users.

Another handy tool is ProxyChains (http://proxychains.sourceforge.net/) which I know works on Linux and might compile for you Mac people too.

No Room for Privacy in a Singular World?

For better or worse in the world of Singularity there is no room for much privacy.  Being that everything will be interconnected and shared.  Which brings us full circle to when the Internet was in its infancy and there was no such thing as passwords or security.  There comes a tipping point where in the beginning we were protecting the network from the users and now we will be needing to protect the users from the network.  This is a growing concern which will become a moot point once the Singularity is truly upon us.  Now I do not mean to speak of it as if it were some biblical revelation, but in some ways it will be since it is a divergence of all that we know. A ‘paradigm shift’ as many like to throw around.

Let’s look at the simple example of me wondering 10 years ago who invented the vacuum cleaner.  I would of been left wondering that answer until I got in front of a computer and happened to recall what I wanted to know in the first place.  Where as today I grab my phone out of my pocket and search Google and read the article on Wikipedia (or elsewhere) and I get almost immediate gratification.  Now imagine 10 years from now in 2020.  I will not even have to type it to know it.  Thinking back to when I was a kid I would of had to go to library and consult the Encyclopedia Britannica if I had wanted to know the scoop on who invented the vacuum.

I have always been a big advocate of privacy (and still am).  But once a paradigm shift such as the singularity occurs most need for privacy will either stop being a concern or be needed even more in some areas.  The idea of my mind being connected to the Internet (if we will still call it that) can be quite a scary thought (no pun intended).  The more one tries to answer the needs the more questions it breeds. Once computers are as smart or smarter than humans will they develop the ability to lie? Computers and other devices can currently detect humans telling lies through voice stress analysis and other means. So what do we do when we can’t lie to computers but they can lie to us? Perplexing.

Many changes are happening as I type this. More scientists and researchers are working on projects now than all scientists in the past combined. Devices are coming into mainstream markets with technologies we could only dream about a few years ago. The amount of data being created is doubling every year and shows no signs of slowing. Privacy may soon be the least of our worries.

Iceland and the New Need for Free Speech and Cryptography

The name Wikileaks has become part of the general vernacular ever since their release of the 91k+ documents related to the US war in Afghanistan.  But another related topic has only been touched upon as a side note to the leakage of these once secret documents.  Iceland has recently only been on people’s minds in relation to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano which disrupted a large amount of international travel.  But there is another story coming out of Iceland that has not gotten so much attention.  It is their passing of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which past the Icelandic Parliament unanimously.  The initiative aims to “task the government with finding ways to strengthen freedom of expression around the world and in Iceland, as well as providing strong protections for sources and whistle blowers. To this end the legal environment should be explored in such a way that the goals can be defined, and changes to law or new law proposals can be prepared. The legal environments of other countries should be considered, with the purpose of assembling the best laws to make Iceland a leader of freedoms of expression and information. We also feel it is high time to establish the first Icelandic international prize: The Icelandic Freedom of Expression Award.”

Being form the US I grew up with the impression that the First Amendment allowed people to freely express their much the same things that Iceland is referring to in their bill.  In the years since my childhood I have realized that this is more a concept than a practice put into action.  Late last month the Washington Post released a series of stories called Top Secret America in which they outlined the ever growing privatization of intelligence gathering in the US.  Some 854,000 people hold top secret clearances.  With thousands of companies reaping the billions of dollars spent on post 9/11 intelligence gathering and related activities.  Many of these activities involve intelligence gathering related to Internet and mobile traffic.  The most amazing part of the Post’s series is the utter lack of uproar over the piece.  Other recent news has also alluded to the possibility of private volunteer snoops (Cryptome claims a hoax) monitoring US citizens Internet traffic and is correlated to the arrest of Bradley Manning a former US Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking secret video and documents to Wikileaks.  So you can say what you want but everyone is listening.

I can understand the need for secrecy in military actions and in certain cases to protect the US from hostile forces and groups.  But the fact that the NSA intercepts 1.7 billion emails, phone call, and other electronic communications daily leads me to believe that out of that vast number the majority are just US citizens going about their daily communications.  Another twist in the news is the funding by Google and the CIA of a company called Recorded Future which is a site that monitors thousands of sites like Twitter, Facebook, and numerous others to create relationships which may create a view of the future.  It also allows for relational and temporal mining of an individual as they relate to other people or groups.  This is certainly something that can be of use to intelligence agencies, yet also has a high potential for abuse.

If a person or organization had access to all the traffic coming from your computer (and some do) imagine the picture they can paint when in conjunction with a company like Google that you might use to search for anything of interest to you.  They would know your interests, hobbies, music taste, and most anything about you by creating these relationships.  Even the kind of legal adult content you may view (let’s be honest here).

So how does one protect themselves and their communications from this sort of snooping done by the government, private “hired guns”, and even individuals?

Cryptography.

There are many Open Source tools to protect yourself from snooping.  Even an entire cipherspace to use to protect your privacy online.  We will look at a few simple things you can do to protect your communications and Internet browsing.

The first would be GnuPG (Gnu Privacy Guard) which is a cryptographic add-on to allow you to easily encrypt, decrypt, and sign email, chat, and files.  There are numerous front-ends to the program to allow ease of use.  Another good option for Instant Messaging encryption is Off-the-Record which allows you to easily encrypt your IMs through numerous services.  A good client in Pidgin which allows you to use GTalk, Yahoo!, AOL IM, and others in one program to easily encrypt conversations.  In terms of safe web browsing there is Freenet, which allows for an encrypted network to safely browse the Internet.  Tools like Freenet also help to protect people in Internet restrictive countries like China to access information freely and to report on the goings on inside their countries.

Another popular anonymizer is Tor which uses the onion routing concept.

“Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. Tor works with many of your existing applications, including web browsers, instant messaging clients, remote login, and other applications based on the TCP protocol.”

There are numerous other means of protecting ones privacy online that I have yet to touch up and will in more detail in future posts.  The above tools will be a good start to helping you protect your privacy and data.

Update 080620102347: Cryptome has an interesting series on US Government File Spying.  It’s latest in the series has some interesting information.

Bye Bye Facebook “Like”Buttons

As some of you might notice I have turned off and uninstalled the WordPress plugin that allows you to “Like” posts on this site.  I have been reading daily for the past week or more the numerous privacy changes. Feel free to have a read of the numerous articles on Facebook and Privacy that have been made and their negative impact.   It was all enough for me to not want to include anything to do with them on my website.  The amazing part is the lack of concern by users of Facebook.  After reading Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook on Gizmodo it got me to seriously consider removing my account.  Along with the interesting practices they use toward game development companies like Zynga, makers of Mafia Wars and the ever popular and annoying Farmville.

Perhaps it truely is time for an open alternative. . .

UPDATE: May 31st is Quit Facebook Day

Privacy Threats in BitTorrent Uncovered

A French group of security researchers have come up with some very interesting results in terms of the level of privacy one can expect and the simplicity of which someone can monitor BitTorrent traffic.  Which is BitTorrentkinda scary for everyone using it especially those who like to download large amounts of music and movies. ;)  Even those using Tor may not be safe from this type of monitoring.

We argue that it is possible to continuously monitor from a single machine most BitTorrent users and to identify the content providers (also called initial seeds). This is a major privacy threat as it is possible for anybody in the Internet to reconstruct all the download and upload history of most BitTorrent users.

To circumvent this kind of monitoring, BitTorrent users are increasingly using anonymizing networks such as Tor to hide their IP address from the tracker and, possibly, from other peers. However, we showed that it is possible to retrieve the IP address for more than 70% of BitTorrent users on top of Tor [LMC_POST10]. Moreover, once the IP address of a peer is retrieved, it is possible to link to the IP address other applications used by this peer on top of Tor.

Read more (off site)