The Ultimate Online Privacy Guide
Back in 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that privacy was something of a myth at the time. The National Security Agency has been examining data on anyone and everyone, regardless of whether they were US citizens, profiling as many people as it can. While the documents Snowden released forced the NSA to scale things back and offer some transparency, it is down to us to take back something that was previously considered a basic human right.
Sadly, these invasive practices arent exclusive to the US, as governments across the world have gone unchecked. To this day, all of them continue to pursue legal grounds that allow for backdoors to monitor your calls, messages and general internet activity.
In order to avoid the eye-in-the-sky that draws increasing similarities to George Orwells Big Brother, there are steps we can take. Using encryption to protect your data can make life difficult for surveillance organizations that are tasked to decrypt it. This information will be kept indefinitely until it is cracked, but this is an incredibly lengthy process. As a result, the more encrypted data becomes standard, the less it will be singled out by agencies that dont wish to waste their time.
Basics: Do You Need A Paid VPN Or Is A Free VPN Enough
In short: A paid VPN is faster, more secure, and offers unlimited data.
While you may be tempted to use a free VPN client, it is often a bad idea, for several reasons:
A free VPN provider can act like adware or sell your data.
A VPN provider needs to make money. If it does not charge you a fee, but still offers you an unlimited VPN, it must make its money through other methods. This often means acting like;adware, and showing you banner ads on your device. Or worse, storing your browsing data and selling it to third parties. Which, of course, goes directly against the purpose of a VPN: Privacy.
A free VPN service can have poor encryption or creative anonymity.
Whereas paid services use a variety of security protocols to ensure your online safety, many free VPN services use;PTPP, which is not only outdated but also marred by numerous security issues.;
Even worse, some of these free VPN such as;Hola VPN; dont have a dedicated network of servers and instead randomly redirect your traffic to another users computer. This means that youll be assigned someone elses IP address, while another user will get to surf the web from your IP address.
Although advertised as VPN, these programs are nothing more than proxies that cant keep you safe and anonymous online. In fact, with someone else using your IP address, you could even become an unwilling accomplice in cybercrime.
If you must go the free route, use a Freemium VPN
Adaptable To Numerous Smart Devices
While many of us may first try a VPN on a company-loaned laptop, many VPN services also protect other smart devices such as your phones, tablets and desktop computers. Each VPN company may offer slightly different protection plans and have different capacities to protect different devices, but many providers offer plans that help keep you safe on multiple devices.
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Edward Snowden Prism And Social Media: Time To Delete Your Account
Thanks in a large part to;The Guardian;and whistle-blower;Edward Snowden, America and the rest of the world is now aware of a whole new meaning to the previously innocent word, ‘prism.’ Revelations of surveillance activities carried out by the NSA has seen Obama’s government desperately trying to contain a situation which seems to be spiralling rapidly out of their control. Headlines branding Snowden as a;traitor;are being plastered across British and American media outlets, but this hasn’t stopped the flurry of questions that the NSA, and the wider government, will need to answer.;
Advanced: Whats Better Tor Or A VPN
In short: Both combined.
VPN are often compared to Tor, a piece of software that reroutes your traffic through a network of nodes to provide a safe browsing experience and give you access to .onion sites on the dark web that other browsers cant open. While some favor Tor, there are certain areas where VPN are superior. For one, Tor cannot provide full anonymity to the users due to the fact that the;exit nodes;arent encrypted.
Unlike most reliable VPN clients, Tor is completely free. However, you can only use it if you download the Tor browser from the internet. Because Tor reroutes your connection through several relays before it reaches its destination, your connection will be considerably slower than with a VPN. Finally, if you choose to download torrents while using Tor, other peers will still be able to see your actual IP address.
Neither a VPN nor Tor provides complete protection, but a VPN might be a better solution overall. Some experts also claim that a combination of the two technologies may be the best option. However, you will need to find a VPN client that supports Tor and be prepared to browse at slower speeds than normal.
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Advanced: Can I Create My Own VPN
In short: Yes by renting a server and being technically savvy.
If you dont want your VPN provider to keep logs of your online activity, you can also set up your own VPN. To do this, however, you will need to buy server space from a web hosting provider or buy and configure your own cloud server. Do keep in mind that you will need some technical know-how to complete the process find more details on creating a VPN for Windows;or;macOS;in these links.;
Data Privacy From Your Internet Service Provider
While connected to your home Wi-Fi, you are less likely to be attacked by strangers than on a public connection. However, your data is still vulnerable.
Your ISP or internet service providerComcast, Spectrum, Verizon or other company who you pay for Wi-Fi each monthcan access all your internet data. Your ISP can see when, where and how you browse.
This data can be collected and sold to advertisers even if youre using the private browsing function, and it can be dangerous in the wrong hands in the case of a data breach. A VPN can help obscure your IP address from your own ISP.
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How We Test: Speed
Lets get the painful part out of the way first: a VPN slows you down. This is simply a part of encrypting and decrypting;data;and routing it through an additional server.
But if you select a fast server close to you, it shouldnt be too dramatic. A 14% reduction in download speed seems to be the average in Western Europe. We imagine that number will be similar in other developed parts of the world.
Well show you how we get to this 14%:
In one of our first VPN tests, we analyzed 16 VPNs on a 100 Mbps connection in Antwerp . The most optimal server location across all those VPN was Frankfurt . This is a central hub with very fast connections and servers, where nearly every VPN seems to have at least one server.
When we routed our traffic through there, the average download speed across those 16 VPN was 86 Mbps, which is a 14% speed penalty from the base connection speed of 100 Mbps.
Do keep in mind that this is an average and that results vary. The slowest VPN, Tunnelbear, had a download speed of 74 Mbps, which is a 26% speed penalty. Whereas the fastest VPN, NordVPN, had a download speed of 92 Mbps, which is only an 8% speed penalty.
Important here is to test a few servers on your VPN to figure out where you have the fastest connection. Dont just accept the automatic location assigned to you by your VPN. We found that this one, more often than not, was not the fastest connection. You can;test your connection speed here.
What was the test setup?
1. Server locations
The Takeaway So Is Encryption Secure
To underestimate the NSAs ambition or ability to compromise all encryption is a mistake. However, encryption remains the best defense we have against it .
To the best of anyones knowledge, strong ciphers such as AES and OpenVPN remain secure.
As Bruce Schneier, encryption specialist, at Harvards Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and privacy advocate famously stated,
“Trust the math. Encryption is your friend. Use it well, and do your best to ensure that nothing can compromise it. Thats how you can remain secure even in the face of the NSA.
Remember, too that the NSA is not the only potential adversary. However, most criminals and even governments have nowhere near the NSA’s ability to circumvent encryption.
Make sure your internet traffic is encrypted, check out the best VPNs in 2021.
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Suspension And Gag Order
On August 8, 2013, Lavabit suspended its operations, and the email service log-in page was replaced by a message from the owner and operator Ladar Levison.The New Yorker suggested that the suspension might be related to the US National Security Agency ‘s “domestic-surveillance practices”.Wired speculated that Levison was fighting a warrant or national security letter seeking customer information under extraordinary circumstances, as Lavabit had complied with at least one routine search warrant in the past. Levison stated in an interview that he has responded to “at least two dozen subpoenas” over the lifetime of the service. He hinted that the objectionable request was for “information about all the users” of Lavabit.
Levison explained he was under gag order and that he was legally unable to explain to the public why he ended the service. Instead, he asked for donations to “fight for the Constitution” in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Levison also stated he has even been barred from sharing some information with his lawyer. Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation called on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to provide greater transparency to the public, in part to help observers “understand what led to a ten-year-old business closing its doors and a new start-up abandoning a business opportunity”.
In September 2013 Levison appealed the order that resulted in the closing of his website.
Basics: How Does A VPN Work
In short: It encrypts your data and hides your IP.
To use a VPN, you need to have a VPN client installed on your computer. When you launch the software and connect to the internet, it immediately encrypts your data so that no one can see it. This data is then rerouted to a VPN gateway device , from where it is sent to your destination . Instead of tracing the data back to your IP address, your online destination sees it as coming from the VPN gateway device, its IP address, and its location.
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Secure Your Cloud Storage
As internet speeds increase, server-level storage becomes cheaper, and the different devices we use to access the internet more plentiful, it is becoming increasingly clear that cloud storage is the future.
The problem, of course, is ensuring that files stored in the “the cloud remain secure and private. And here the big players have proven themselves woefully inadequate. Google, Dropbox, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft have all worked in cahoots with the NSA. They also in their terms and conditions reserve the right to investigate your files and hand them over to the authorities if they receive a court order.
To ensure that your files are secure in the cloud, there are a number of approaches you can take.
Manually Encrypt Your Files Before Uploading Them to the Cloud
The simplest and most secure method is to manually encrypt your files using a program such as VeraCrypt or EncFS. This has the advantage that you can carry on using your favorite cloud storage service, no matter how inherently insecure it is, as you hold all the encryption keys to your files.
As discussed later, mobile apps that can handle VeraCrypt or EncFS files exist, allowing for synchronization across devices and platforms. Features such as file versioning will not work with individual files as the encrypted container hides them, but it is possible to recover past versions of the container.
If you are in the market for a good Dropbox alternative, you may like to check out our best secure backups list.
Identify Your Threat Model
When considering how to protect your privacy and stay secure on the internet, carefully consider who or what worries you most. Defending yourself against everything is almost impossible. And any attempt to do so will likely seriously degrade the usability of the internet.
Identifying to yourself that being caught downloading an illicit copy of Game of Thrones is a bigger worry than being targeted by a crack NSA TAO team for personalized surveillance is a good start. It will leave you less stressed, with a more useable internet and with more effective defenses against the threats that really matter to you.
As a side note, if you are concerned about staying secure when torrenting, we recommending taking a look at our best VPNs for torrenting guide.
Of course, if your name is Edward Snowden, then TAO teams will be part of your threat model
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Advanced: Whats The Best VPN Protocol
In short: OpenVPN.
Although PTPP may be more common, especially in free VPN,;OpenVPN;is the best VPN protocol. Faster and more secure than most other protocols, OpenVPN supports both 128-bit and 256-bit encryption, thus ensuring optimal safety for your data. Compatible with a variety of devices and platforms, the OpenVPN protocol supports additional encryption algorithms like CAST-128, Blowfish, AES, and Camellia.
Advanced: Whats Better A Proxy Or A VPN
In short: A VPN.
Many people confuse proxies with VPN. While the former can only mask your IP address, the latter also encrypt your data and protect your activity from the prying eyes. If you only want to change your IP address in order to access, say, a streaming website thats unavailable in your region, a proxy would be a good choice. However, if you also want to protect your data and hide your browsing activity from hackers while on a public Wi-Fi connection, a reliable VPN service is your best bet.
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Expressvpn Didnt Deny The Claim
It is rather amusing that ExpressVPN, one of the worlds leading VPN services providers, hasnt denied that claim that its CIO has been involved in;Project Raven. The company released a statement explaining that the facts narrated in the report were before the company employed Daniel, and they have been aware of this since the start.
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Weve known the key facts relating to Daniels employment history since before we hired him, as he disclosed them proactively and transparently with us from the start. In fact, it was his history and expertise that made him an invaluable hire for our mission to protect users privacy and security, ExpressVPN stated.
To be completely clear, as much as we value Daniels expertise and how it has helped us to protect customers, we do not condone Project Raven, the company added.
Although the company regarded Project Raven and surveillance in general as antithetical, it wants to retain Gericke as its employee since Daniel has 20 years long experience in the cybersecurity industry and has worked in the US military.
He has consistently and continuously strengthened and reinforced the systems that allow us to deliver privacy and security to millions of people, ExpressVPN explained.
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Advanced: Whats Better Aes
In short: AES-256.
AES is the encryption standard used by most VPN services to protect the data that you send and receive via public internet networks. The two most common variants are AES-128 and AES-256. As the names suggest, they use 128-bit and 256-bit encryption keys to ensure that hackers cant access your data.
The only major difference between the two variants is the time it would take to crack the encryption key using maximum computational power and resources. While the 128-bit variant would take a quintillion years to crack, AES-256 would take a staggering 18.7 undecillion . Although the latter is obviously much superior, both AES-128 and AES-256 provide more than enough protection for your data.
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Edward Snowden Warns Expressvpn Users To Ditch The Service Immediately
ExpressVPN doesnt approve of the spying project, but stands by its employee
Former NSA whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden has warned users to stop using popular VPN service ExpressVPN.
If youre an ExpressVPN customer, you shouldnt be, Snowden posted on Twitter.
Snowdens suggestion was a quote tweet that shared news of ExpressVPN CIO Daniel Gerickes role in Project Raven, which involved the creation of spying tools for the UAE.;
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Gericke is part of the three former US intelligence operatives that have been charged by the US Department of Justice for their role in the spying operation, and have agreed not to contest the charges and pay the imposed fine.
Connection To Edward Snowden
Lavabit received media attention in July 2013 when it was revealed that Edward Snowden was using the Lavabit email address Ed_Snowden@lavabit.com to invite human rights lawyers and activists to a press conference during his confinement at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow. The day after Snowden revealed his identity, the United States federal government served a court order, dated June 10, 2013, and issued under 18 USC 2703, a 1994 amendment of the Stored Communications Act, asking for metadata on a customer who was unnamed. Kevin Poulsen of Wired wrote that “the timing and circumstances suggest” that Snowden was this customer. In July 2013 the federal government obtained a search warrant demanding that Lavabit give away the private SSL keys to its service affecting all Lavabit users. A 2016 redaction error confirmed that Edward Snowden was the target.
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