Spying, hacking, surveillance are not going away anytime soon. Drowning your phone and fleeing to North Korea for good will not help.
Unfortunately many solutions that seem to give helpful information are too technical and even if they weren’t, surveillance systems have become so sophisticated that all an intruder needs is your device having a functional microphone, camera and keyboard. The rest are bonus features that only can be used against a target such as ability to take screenshots, connection to the internet and phone networks.
In this era of inter-connectivity, where laptops are connected to phones, phones are connected to access control systems and so on, it’s extremely hard to consistently follow up with the fast changing cyber security landscape. The fragmented mobile OS eco-systems don’t help either; there is literally an app for every whim you’ll possibly ever have. Surveillance apps, anti-surveillance apps, secure texts and calls apps, texts and calls sniffers and a whole lot of paradoxical offerings. In short: It’s overwhelming.
1. Stay off WhatsApp and Facebook and Twitter, heck, everything prefixed by social something
Well, severing ties with communication channels is quintessentially the same as going back to the days of caveman. But the brutal truth is the obsession with using WhatsApp and the like is what Bertrand Russell called giving a man a mask and him spilling everything without fear. WhatsApp, especially, is the poster child for secure end to end real time communication. Should the authorities file a warrant to have your data looked into, WhatsApp will unveil your mask faster than Google loads its homepage. In fact, a recent report implicated WhatsApp for its wistfulness and failure to protect data in front of spying Goliaths.
Structurally, the most important thing about social networks or any other network is that each individual is at its centre. In some sort of customized bubble, and this bubble can be burst by anybody who has the technical capability to do so; hackers and spies. As a matter of fact, privacy has become a concept we used to know all thanks to narcissism. For every new social platform that pops up there is a multiplier spillover effect to our levels of narcissism. Don’t get some people started on selfies, please don’t. It’s as if their faces come with Instagram filters. And for the first person essays with “I” in the titles, the self-love is in overdrive. Even for someone with no technical expertise, they could arguably discern your mood and character at a quick glance. In all this you’re a pawn in pursuit of your adversaries’ malicious activities.
2. Stay away from public wifi
The best things in life are free. In the same vein, FREE public wifi is the truth. Whereas the news that these networks could possibly be compromised is not new. There are over a billion smartphone holders in the world, in Kampala, a tiny fraction, about 700,000 smartphone holders scour the metropolitan for the most convenient wifi spots. They know which one allows torrents, which one allows video streaming and which one is fastest. Be it at a coffee shop, library, restaurant, university, they know the spots.
The good news is that some public wifi networks are more protected than others, they have encryption and adhere to standards for safe data transfer. But still, with exception of a few, anything online can be broken into. There was a scintillating demonstration in Amsterdam last year where a hacker was taken to a café and, in 20 minutes, he knew where everyone else was born, what schools they attended, and the last five things they had googled. He alleged that all it took for one to pull off a similar hack was a dirt cheap intercepting device, a little patience and an average IQ, which almost any willing person is capable of.
Consider tethering on your own data plan, but where need be, use public wifi with moderation. Desist sharing private information such as credit card details. And use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) too, they help in encrypting data on wireless networks.
3. There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me.’ – Philip K. Dick
Yes, plus your smart TV, your smart washing machine. Generally your whole ensemble of smart everything you collectively love to taut as the internet of things (IoT). As Michael Price posited in an enraged article, be wary of that new “smart” TV, which promises to deliver streaming multimedia content, games, apps, social media and Internet browsing. Oh, and TV too. The amount of data this thing collects is staggering; it has an in-built camera, with facial recognition of course, which enables “gesture control” and other cool features like logging in by just showing your face to the TV. However, all the images it saves are uploaded to some remote server of some faceless corporation X which wants to serve you more and more Adverts.
Worse yet, the telescreen comes with an in-built microphone, which again promises to better the user experience by allowing you to issue voice commands, perhaps scream commands at it too. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.
The caveat is that such personal information is sensitive and should not be covertly transmitted to third parties without constitutional warrants. Which, clearly in this case, are demurred.
4. Follow your gut
This is what psychologists call listening to your heart. When you have this feeling that someone has stretched their necks and they’re leering right at every step you take, then there are high chances that the giraffes are actually at work. The aura about intuition is that it’s oft right. Even if it was wrong, the preventive measures taken are usually worth it in the long run. Only the paranoid survive.
5. Use select apps
Usage of applications that promise bulletproof protection is simply hogwash. There is nothing like foolproof on the internet. However, there are some applications that add a thick layer of skin. By the time this layer is penetrated, you’ll have noticed and taken due measures. In this game of thrones, the counter culture is to strengthen the defensive, as they strengthen their offensive. Mashable has a great list of applications that can help you to stay safe online. In the same light, this Huffington post has great tips to help you circumvent surveillance.
It’s imperative, however, that one learns the rhetoric behind this whole thing; spying and hacking alike. The perpetrators mostly use system/device exploits and social engineering as tactics of choice. In summary exploits are vulnerabilities that exist in software or hardware that hackers use to afflict damage. Social engineering, in a stark contrast, is simply conning someone into handing over information vital for key access to their data. This manipulation can be in form of, for example, spear phishing, where one is duped into giving their social media log-in credentials using a fake page but with similar behaviour and feel as the original.
As it boils down, much as governments and state agencies are most interested in intercepting your private communications, majorly for the greater good of security, suspicious lovers, and malicious partners are also on the fore. For dimwitted hackers aka crackers, who may not necessarily want to gain economically, will try to break into your inboxes or voice relay channels just for the sake of it.
The most notorious ones, arguably, are the Mr. X giant corporations that have devised all cunning ways possible to track us; through cookies and beacons. And we fall for these, thinking that they’re food, tasty and yummy. But alas! They’re adverts.
Image: Cropped Image from Matter on Medium