How to stop the online snoops

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Tired of being hounded by online retailers, indexed by search engines and possibly monitored by Big Brother governments? Jamie Carter looks at ways to thwart the online snoops.

It’s been more than a month since the Post exclusively interviewed surveillance whistle-blower Edward Snowden, but the fallout from his revelations about the US PRISM cyber-snooping program continue. Among them were claims that US authorities have hacked Chinese mobile phone companies to access millions of private text messages, while Tsinghua University in Beijing appears to have been targeted, too.

It has brought attention to just how public our personal web browsing, online chat, file transfer, voice-over IP calls, cloud storage and e-mail really are. But is there anything we can do to stay safe from the snoops?

It’s hard to hide yourself, if someone pursuing your information is determined
Lysa Myers, Virus Hunter, intego

There are multiple ways of “digital shredding”, encrypting data and staying anonymous, but before we explore the options, it’s worth asking why you want to operate in secret. Also, if you encrypt your data, does that make you more suspicious to government snoopers?

Kevin Curran, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, reckons anyone making such arguments is living in the past. He says we’ve moved on from a time when the only people using encryption were paranoid geeks, terrorists and law enforcement agencies. Forget the Big Brother angle and think of it this way: is locking your house at night suspicious behaviour, or having a PIN code on your smartphone?

Keeping your private data secure is good practice for individuals and is becoming a necessity for businesses.

But there is no silver bullet that will keep all of your data and online behaviour safe.

“What you need to do to hide from online snoops depends in large part on what sort of snoops you want to hide from, and how valuable your information is to those snoops,” says Lysa Myers, virus hunter at security software company Intego.

Its Identity Scrubber software – aimed at frequent travellers – digitally shreds sensitive data on a Mac. “It’s quite difficult to hide yourself, if someone pursuing your information is sufficiently determined,” says Myers, who recommends we take many small steps to protect privacy rather than attempt to erase all traces of ourselves online.

Aside from letting politicians know your stance on cybercrime laws and the government’s ability to search people’s data, she recommends going through the privacy and security options already built-in to most software, including the operating system, which you’ve likely ignored so far.

“Encrypting data at rest on a local device is best practice,” agrees Curran, who says that anything held behind a firewall is likely to be encrypted.

“All data prior to be sent to a service like Dropbox should be encrypted before uploading to the cloud service,” he adds.

People with the Ultimate or Enterprise version of Windows 7 or Windows 8 can use the built-in BitLocker software to encrypt the drive, while others include TrueCrypt, DiskCryptor and CloudFrogger.

read the full piece of advice on South China Morning Post website.

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