PRISM and privacy: Ways to avoid being spied on by the government

We live in a world of a beehive of online activities, with many individuals happily sharing their private information on the Internet. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam is constantly looking over your shoulder. Unknown to most people, a lot of data is collected via the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) PRISM surveillance program. Once you’re the target, a massive amount of data about you can be collected and forwarded to the government. Whenever the government is caught with its hands in the privacy jar, two platitudes are always given: If you have not done something wrong, you’ve nothing to hide, and you have to trust the government — it has your best interests at heart.

Basically, the government’s nothing-to-hide notion implies that it’s only criminals who may want to hide. But is that true? Besides, we all have something that we want to hide. Just ask anybody to show you their credit card bill or even their emails — what would be the response?

If there’s nothing that should be hidden and you can trust the government with your data, think about this scenario: What will happen if someone gains access into the government’s database? Since you are here, we assume you are one of those folks who want to escape NSA spying. If so, it is time for you to be smart and be a ghost!

Privacy is not a given

Online activities should be private, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. In 2013, the NSA outlined how data can be collected via the PRISM program. The technology is merely based on the optical fiber wiretaps. PRISM is meant to track the activities of potential foreign terrorists. Just like in criminal investigations, the NSA is probably not intentionally spying on you, but the fact that they can when they want to is a breach of privacy.

There are several ways you stay out of the omnipresent eyes of the government and the NSA’s PRISM. Below are some simple measures to minimize the likelihood of the NSA PRISM program monitoring your Internet activities.

Encryption, encryption, encryption

One of the surest ways of beating the NSA’s PRISM surveillance trap is by encrypting your Internet traffic. It’s simply that all the encrypted data is useless to the PRISM program without the decryption key. Your conversations may not be private unless you encrypt. First, you can encrypt the hard drive and all the existing files. All the data stored on the cloud should be encrypted before being submitted to Internet service providers. The last thing you want is entirely trusting Google, Microsoft, or Apple to encrypt data for you. As an individual, avoid storing unencrypted personal data in clouds like OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive.

Subscribe to a virtual private network

Using a good VPN will help keep the NSA from sniffing around your personal space and your business. A VPN merely helps establish a private network that’s private to the Internet and allows you to surf anonymously (although there are many caveats here). It conceals the user identity by masking the device’s IP address and then directing traffic via VPN servers in a location that you may choose.

However, a VPN should not be just a VPN but should be a VPN that doesn’t keep logs. A VPN without logs means that the VPN provider cannot reveal your identity even if it gets a court order. That’s because it won’t be recording any of your web activities details in the first place. Moreover, a VPN will ensure that you easily bypass Internet restrictions, as well as getting access to blocked websites.

Disable web tracking

Each time you visit a new site, a trail of footprints are left behind that can tell so much about you. Most advertising networks use those digital footprints for targeted ads, meaning that the NSA is most probably watching every keystroke you make.

Therefore, to ensure that you block web tracking, simply visit your browser’s settings and then disable third-party cookies so that they do not load on the current web page.

Secondly, you need to privately search the web by activating private “incognito” mode in the browser. Alternatively, you can opt to use browser extensions like Ghostery that prevent ad agencies and search engines from tracking web pages.

Furthermore, you can disable JavaScript from the browser setting to help avoid web tracking. And masking your IP address via a VPN is another excellent way of staying out of the radar of tracking cookies.

Watch those hotspots

Sometimes connecting to free hotspots can prove to be a channel through which someone can access your device. However, wandering from the library to the coffee shop and the free café down the street can provide a security protection layer. Why? Because your IP address keeps on varying by location. However, you should be very careful about such hotspots as they are the real hotspots of malware invasion.

Tie the knob with a password

After doing everything right, you’ll also want to tie all your encrypted services with hard-to-crack passwords. You need to find the best password manager and then create your unique password.

Secure all your communications

The NSA can tap into all cellular networks across the globe. Therefore, there’s every reason to protect your communications. Your instant messaging services can be protected from the NSA surveillance program using an Off-the-Record (OTR) chat extension. It helps in encrypting all messages on IM networks.

Browse the web anonymously with Tor

Another reigning king for anonymous browsing is the Onion Router (TOR). It allows you to browse anonymously as it conceals user identity by encrypting and bouncing communications over a plethora of servers. Therefore, it makes it difficult for spy agencies to trace the traffic source or the recipient easily. All they see is traffic originating from a plethora of random nodes and not your PC.

Looking through the PRISM

Ultimately, keeping off the NSA’s PRISM is not a walk in the park. While all these tips do not mean that you’re entirely PRISM-proof, they’ll minimize the risk of NSA snooping on your online activities. You just have to pray that you don’t give them enough evidence to suspect you because then all privacy bets are off.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Ali Qamar

Ali Qamar is a privacy and cybersecurity enthusiast. His work has been featured in major tech and security blogs, including InfosecInstitute, Hackread, ValueWalk, Intego, and SecurityAffairs. He runs PrivacySavvy.com now. Follow Ali on Twitter @AliQammar57.

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Ali Qamar

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