In case you’ve missed the buzz this week, new Wikileaks revelations have unearthed what should be a major national concern. In a drop of more than 8,700 pages of classified documents, Vault 7 as it is known, let us into the secret activities of our own Central Intelligence Agency. What was revealed is extremely unnerving. The CIA has the ability to turn our personal technology into a spying device.
Snowden’s initial information about the government spying on all of Americans got a fair bit of play, even a Hollywood film, but it didn’t really seem to budge any voters in 2016. Both Trump and Clinton openly support the continuation of these post-9/11 policies. “You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide” say the supporters on both sides of the aisles. However, it has become more apparent that is simply not the case as the Justice Department pressured tech companies like Apple into providing backdoor access to all of their devices, with or without a proper warrant.
Vault 7 takes things a step further, proving that the CIA has the ability to turn our cell phones, and other connected devices like our televisions, into listening devices to spy on our everyday life. Welcome to the ultimate Big Brother scenario in which private devices, in private settings, are creating a network of spying tools for the CIA.
This is theoretical doom and gloom. Now reliant on smartphones and TVs with Netflix built-in, the thought of living off the grid to protect your privacy is a tough sell. Furthermore, why should Americans have to lose the right of living free and connected? Although not a foolproof plan, you do have some options. Here are 4 basic steps to protect yourself from the CIA:
1) Encrypt Your Communications.
Everything you say in electronic form is being tracked, recorded, and most likely archived by the NSA and/or CIA. We learned from Snowden that even international communications that pass through U.S. servers are tracked. (If you want to know more about that, Google “PRISM”).
The good part is, there are some great free and low-cost options to take the CIA out of the question.
First, you should start with your messaging. Texts, iMessages, Facebook Messenger, and every other option you use are allowing your information to be collected without your consent. While it’s definitely tough to move from one popular platform to a lesser known one, they are all free and do exactly what you’d expect: protect you. My recommendation would be either Signal or CyberDust. As they are slowly growing in popularity, you’ll find more of your friends are already migrating that way. You shouldn’t wait on them though, be a trendsetter.
Secondly, your email. All free services like Gmail or Outlook are terrible about your privacy to begin with, and adding in the CIA just makes it that much worse. Secure email is easily accessible though through a great service called HushMail. Their premium service, which is just $50/year, includes fully encrypted email, smartphone apps, and more. As a user for more than a decade, I can’t recommend them enough for providing such a functional, safe alternative to standard email.
PSA: Some people think that SnapChat, due to its “self destruct” features is a secure method. False. All of your images and information is stored on SnapChat servers and can be used against you in court.
2) Create a Secondary Home Network.
This takes a bit more effort, but adds additional security on top of your privacy. The premise is, move all of your SmartHome devices onto a second wireless network in your home to gain more control over their accessibility. This will allow you to keep those vulnerable devices off of your main network that contains all of your sensitive personal information such as access to your phone or laptop. It also allows you to turn that network off when it’s not needed, which will keep your devices, such as your Amazon Echo, from constantly streaming information to the NSA/CIA. A cheap wireless router will cost you around $30 making this a low-cost addition.
3) Disable Non-essential Devices
If it doesn’t need to be on the internet, don’t let it. For instance, my TV has built-in wifi that allows apps to run on the device. However, I never use those since I have an AppleTV. If you don’t need your TV on the internet, flat out disable it. At the very least, turn the network on and off when not in use. It’s generally a simple menu toggle.
4) Turn Off Location Services
This tip is useful not just against Big Brother but to protect your privacy from other parties. A ton of apps in your phone default to using location services all the time. Does Twitter need to track your every move? Absolutely not. A lot of apps do need that information, but only when they are in use, which is a feature you can select in the settings of your iPhone or Android device. My philosophy is, if you’re not sure if you need location services for a particular app, turn them off. Once it’s needed, you’ll be prompted to turn them on, and that’s largely better than allowing every app developer under the sun to track your every move. You never know when a data breach will unleash all of that data to unsavory characters, not just the ones inside our government.
My only wish is that you take at least one of these steps and act on it. It’s important we protect our right to privacy if only for the principle of it.
Have tips, tricks, or apps of your own you recommend? Leave them in the comments!