Big Brother Gains Power Next Year: What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Actually, “Big Brother” has already gotten a lot more powerful. On December 1, Rule 41 went into effect, in spite of Senator Ron Wyden’s best efforts. For those who aren’t familiar with Rule 41, here’s a quick synopsis from Ars Technica:

“The measure clarifies the law allowing judges to sign warrants that let authorities hack into computers outside a judge’s jurisdiction. The rule also gives federal judges the authority to issue a warrant to search multiple computers—even without knowing who is the targeted computer owner. Previously, some judges had practiced this, while others did not.”

Yikes, right? So how to you protect yourself?Image result for Big Brother Gains Power Next Year: What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Encryption

Encrypting your hard drive is a good idea, to be sure. Even better, keep your files and information saved to an encrypted flash drive. This adds an extra layer of protection since, to put it bluntly, if the drive isn’t connected to the computer, it cannot be hacked. That’s Internet 101 stuff, sure, but still worth pointing out.

Another part of your digital life that deserves encryption is your email. Encrypting your email is something that will likely seem daunting for those not particularly tech or code savvy but there are tools out there, like PGP, that you can use to do the work for you. And, of course, if you’re using a web-based email like Gmail, you might want to rethink that as the company can be compelled to hand over any of your data that passed through its servers.

Finally, you will definitely want to encrypt your phone–especially if you plan on doing any protesting. Some phones, like iPhones, come with encryption built in and already operational. Others will need to be encrypted manually. In addition to encrypting your phone, you should stop using fingerprint identification for unlocking your phone and you should make sure that your phone’s password is long and complicated.

Beyond Encryption

There has also been some concern that the incoming Trump administration should not be trusted with President Obama’s (overreaching) domestic and foreign surveillance apparatus. From TechCrunch:

“Ultimately, the combination of ubiquitous “smart” devices and vast data centers for collecting the private, sensitive data that those devices produce about every aspect of our modern lives makes possible a level of total surveillance that wouldn’t have been conceivable just ten years ago. We in the West have never seen anything like this used in a hostile way to suppress political dissent, but all of that could change in a little over a month.”

Sounds pretty bleak, right? Thankfully, there are still steps that you can take that will keep your privacy, your identity, and your data safe from otherwise prying eyes.

Two Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication has been around for a few years and it can be a godsend for preventing hacking. Basically, what two factor authentication does is require two different “passwords” to let you into an account. The first password is the one you choose when you sign up and enter into your profile. The second is a temporary password that is sent to you via text message or through an apply Google Authenticator. Some providers even send you a physical “key” that you plug into your USB port. Enable two factor authentication on everything you can.

VPNs Are Your Friend

Virtual Private Networks are another sort of encryption you can set up for your computer, but we think it’s important enough to be given it’s own category here. A virtual private network is sort of like an IP-mask for your laptop. Basically, once your VPN is set up, your laptop will always be given the same IP address. This isn’t a big deal if you only ever use your computer in one place but if you log in at a coffee shop or hotel or anywhere else, your VPN makes it look like you haven’t moved at all. This is important for people who are afraid of people tracking their locations (IP addresses can be used to confirm someone’s location) or stalking them.

Is Tor For You?

There has been a lot of chatter about the Tor Browser in recent weeks. Tor is a web browser that allows users to use the web anonymously. It doesn’t allow cookies or tracking software to be installed on the devices connected to it. It bounces your searches and activity around to several servers making it incredibly difficult to link a specific communication, search, etc back to you. It’s worth noting, though, that Tor is also synonymous with nefarious activity so even the simple act of downloading it could be enough to put you on a watch list.

Keeping yourself and your data safe is more important and more involved than it has ever been before. If you use our tips, though, you will definitely put a formidable roadblock between yourself and those who might have less than awesome intentions.

Maureen@techsophist.net'