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Tech Talk: Conquering Big Brother


February 11, 2014
By Stephane Laverdiere

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You’ve undoubtedly heard about the U.S. government’s domestic online surveillance programs.

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the U.S. government’s domestic online surveillance programs. This news has left many people shocked and more than a little upset. If you’re wondering whether your Canadian personal privacy is finally dead, read on.

These surveillance programs involve monitoring of e-mails, photos, videos, chat logs and search terms, under certain conditions. But not all communications can be tracked – if you know how to secure them.

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Internet browsing
First, find a way to browse the Internet without revealing your IP address. Software tools like Tor exist to help mask your identity online. This system bounces your transported data across various points within its own private network, preventing others from knowing its true source and destination.

You can also connect to the Internet via a virtual private network (VPN). There are several VPN providers available and it’s best to do some research on each of them first to make sure they can offer the type of protection you’re looking for. Typically, VPNs should not store any type of log that can be used to link users to their IP addresses. If a government entity does ask VPN providers to hand over their logs, there should be nothing to hand over except for a list of users that cannot be tied to any particular activity.

For search functions, try to avoid Google and the other major search engines. There are alternative search engines like Ixquick, which do not log IP addresses or any search terms that you might use. Their privacy credentials state they share no information with any third parties and their capabilities are constantly improving. Standard search engines record all of your search data, along with the dates and times that you visit individual websites, as well as which links you click on. All of this is stored in large databases, allowing anyone who might get their hands on it to learn what your interests are and all sorts of personal information that can be used against you by unscrupulous marketers, government officials and criminals.

E-mail
You may already be using a commercial provider that has provided data to the government, as a result of the PRISM program – a once top-secret surveillance program run by the U.S. National Security Agency to monitor foreign citizens who use the services of any of the major multinational firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. However, this does not mean that there’s nothing you can do from this point forward. It is possible to learn how to send encrypted e-mails through the use of programs like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) or GPG (Gnu Privacy Guard).

PGP is a program designed to both encrypt and decrypt messages, allowing you to thwart most attempts at surveillance, provided your system is not infected with some type of malicious Trojan. GPG is essentially a free alternative to PGP. PGP also enables you to send an encrypted digital signature, which allows the receiver to verify the identity of the sender, while also assuring them the message was not changed at any point before it was received. Once installed on your computer, its interface is designed to work with whatever e-mail program you normally use.

Storage
When it comes to storing your documents, cloud storage might not initially seem like a very safe idea, but there is a way to get around the security concerns. The solution is to encrypt your files before you upload them to the cloud with a program like Cloudfogger. This handy software uses 256-bit AES (advanced encryption standard) to ensure nobody can access your files even when using cloud storage services like Dropbox or Skydrive.

Instant messaging and chat
The best approach to security with regard to chat and instant messaging services is to avoid the conventional ones altogether. There are alternatives available that are much more secure, such as Jitsi. This free software offers secure chat, video calling, conferencing, file transfer and more. There are also plug-ins available like Off-the-Record, which in conjunction with Pidgin (for Windows) or Adium (for Mac) can encrypt your instant messages to conceal them from those prying eyes.

The ability to maintain privacy on the Internet is still possible as long as you know how to secure your online communications. It may not be easy to keep up with all of these technologies, but it’s a must for those who depend on technology to carry them through this ever-changing world.


Dr. Stephane Laverdiere is a graduate of the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Ill., and president and cofounder of Atlas Chiropractic Systems, a paperless office solution. He is also the founder of the Internet video marketing firm, ChiroVMail. He can be contacted at slaverdiere@atlaschirosys.com or at 1-877-602-8527.


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