Creating Your Own Privacy & ROI
img courtesy of XKCD http://xkcd.com/
With all the alleged revelations over the drift net surveillance happening to us all by the government I and others have been pondering the processes needed to protect one’s communications online and over the phone. Wired and other venues have put out reasonably ok articles on this but generally I think they have lacked on the ROI factor for the varying degree’s of surveillance that has been carried out for some time now, not just the NSA with PRISM. The immensity of it all I think can put one off on the idea of being able to keep their privacy especially given the pains that one must take to keep it on the nation state scale. However, there is much that could be done to have a modicum of privacy but one just has to understand the idea of OPSEC and have some technical base to work from in order to use the technologies such as TOR or CRYPTO in the first place. It is another thing altogether to keep that mindset every day and to understand the import of their use and the cause and effect that comes from failing to use them.
PRISM and NATION STATE SURVEILLANCE
As Ali (@packetknife) alluded to on the “Loopcast” recently with me, the idea that someone can completely deny the nation state program of surveillance is a tough one to swallow today. We all are connected to the net in some way whether it be your smartphone or some other connected device that we carry with us 24/7. In the case of the smart phone the utter and total pwn that goes on there is spectacular to think about. There is no need for tinfoil hat conspiracies about barcode tattoo’s on one’s neck here, all you really need is an iPhone and connectivity to know quite a bit about a person. This is why the metadata issue is a big one and people are seemingly unable to comprehend it. Let me clarify this for you all by also saying that not only are the calls to and from being easily monitored and mined (stored later for perusal when needed) by the NSA it seems, but also the GPS data as well. Remember the hubbub over the Apple collection of GPS data on the phones a couple years back? Remember the outrage on some parts over this? Well, now look at that in relations to how much of that data is accessible by the government too in this program. More to the point and this has not really been talked about, but are they correlating that data as well in the phone surveillance being carried out? My assumption is yes but like I said that seems to have been dwarfed and drowned out by the PRISM revelations.
Ok so now we are being data mined and correlated on the phone calls we make (metadata). Of who we are calling, how long we are talking, and when as well as the GPS (location) as well? All of that data is very informational about the habits of a person alone but start to analyze it from a personal and psychological perspective and you can build quite the dossier on someone without even having to listen to their conversations. Which I hasten to add that there are rumors of the caching of conversations generally not just under warrant from FISA. At this level, the nation state level of surveillance, one cannot hope to really be secure in their communications using technologies as they are because of the access the government has built for themselves post 9/11 with the Patriot Act as it’s fulcrum. Access mind you that we are giving them by proxy of the devices we buy and the services that provide the connection because without them we have no way to communicate other than in person or pen to paper with the post offices help right?
All of this though does not mean that the government is spying on you now. What it means though is that the legalities have been created or bent to the will of the government to have the illusion that the wholesale collection of all kinds of data for later use of anyone using these systems is legal. It also means that no matter the protestation of the government and the law enforcement bodies that they take all due care not to collect/use/surveill you vis a vis your data that there is a chance that someone within the system “could” and “might” do so outside of the rules and that is the problem here … Well other than the Constitutional, moral, and ethical issues that is. Just because it is against the rules does not mean someone won’t do it if they have the access. You know.. Like EJ Snowden having access to highly classified data that perhaps he shouldn’t have? Or furthermore the availability of Mr. Snowden being able to insert a USB drive into systems and siphon off said data to give to the press or anyone who’d listen right?
PRIVATE SECTOR or THE LITTLE SISTERS
Another issue that seems to be taking a back seat here is the notion of the Little Sisters to Big Brother. This idea springs from something I alluded to above in that the corporations that offer you the services (Gmail/ATT/Facebook etc) all collect data on you every minute of every day. They use this data for advertising, data mining, selling that data to other companies to form synergies on how to sell you on things etc. It is this practice of collecting all this data on us and our complicity in it that has given rise to the drift net approach that the government has taken with the surveillance programs like PRISM. The government is simply leveraging the capacities that are already there in the first place! You want to blame someone for this mess? Look in the mirror as you have allowed your data to be collected in the first place. YOU have placed your minute details out there on the internet to start with in email or posts to Twitter and Facebook for example. YOU are the culprit because you fail to understand OPSEC (Operational Security) and just scattered it on the net for anyone to see.
Of course other bits are more arcane. Cookies, tracking data within browsers and the like also give away much data on who you are, what you like, and allow the marketers to tailor ads for you when you go to sites that pay for the services. The aggregate of all of this data makes a digital portrait of you that unless you take pains to disallow the collection, will be sold and used by the corporations to package YOU as the commodity. I mean, how do you think Facebook works? It’s a social contract to connect to others and allow Facebook to make money off of your habits. Zucky is not in this to win a Nobel Peace Prize here ya know.
So when you think about all this surveillance going on please remember that you are complicit in it every time you surf the web, make a facebook post, a tweet, or send an email unencrypted (Google analytics kids) because they are all sifting that data to “get to know you better” *cough* It’s just a friends with benefits thing as the government see’s it being able to just hit them with an NSL and plant a server in the infrastructure to cull the data they want. As long as it doesn’t effect the bottom line (money) for them I suspect their worries about privacy are, well, pretty low on average. I mean after all you have already signed away your rights have you not? The little sisters are insidious and subtle and I am afraid they have already become metasticized within the society body.
The Only Privacy You Can Have Is That Which You Make Yourselves
“The only privacy that you have today is that which you make for yourself” is something I said a while back on a blog post or podcast and I still stand by it. It seems all the more relevant in the post Snowden world today. By creating privacy I mean leveraging technologies like encryption to keep your communications private and OPSEC to consider how you transmit information over the internet and telco. There are inherent problems though with all of these things as you can always make a mistake and end up leaking information either technically (an instance would be logging online with your own IP address to something) or process wise like putting your current location on Facebook and saying you’re on vacation for two weeks. It is all a matter of degree though and even if you are practicing OPSEC there are things outside of your control when the nation state is looking to spy on you. There are just no two ways about it, you can only fight the nation state so much with technology as they have more resources to defeat your measures eventually by end run or by brute force.
On the level of defeating the little sisters, well the same applies but with limitations. You can in fact surf the net on TOR with NOSCRIPT, cookies disallowed and on an inherently anonymized OS on a USB stick right? The little sisters can only do so much and they only interact when they see a profit in it. They after all are not looking to be voyeurs just for the fun of it. They want to sell you something or sell you as metadata right? However, if you start to anonymize yourself as much as you can and you are diligent about it you can stop the Little Sisters which in turn may minimize what the Big Brother can use too. The caveat is that you have to take pains to do this and you have to know what you are doing. There are no magic easy button offerings on the shelf that will hide you from them all and if you care then you will take the time to learn how to perform these measures.
ROI On Privacy
Finally, I would like to take stock of the fight here that you need to take on and what the ROI is for each adversary involved. In reality unless you go off the grid, change your identity and never touch another piece of technology ever again there is a high likelihood that your information will be tracked. One may in fact create a separate identity to pay bills with and use that one to surf online as well as other things but that is an extreme just like the idea of becoming a Luddite. There must be a middle road where you can feel that you are protecting a certain portion of your lives from the unblinking eye of the companies and governments that own or access the technologies that we use every day. You have to though, understand all of this and accept that in the end you may fail at keeping your privacy yours and yours alone. Come to grips with this and be smart and you can have a modicum of success if you are diligent.
A for instance of this ROI would be on the phones. If you TRULY want to be private then you have to lose your smartphone that you have billed to you and buy a burn phone. Cash is king and there is no information taken if you do it right. The unfortunate thing is that you then have to call only others who have the same burn phones out there without any metdata that ties it back to their real identities. You just try getting mom and dad to buy burn phones to talk to them on… It’s not that easy. So really, some of the ROI is minimized by the nuisance factor. The same can be said for the lay individual who is not going to go buy encryption products nor are they capable of installing a Linux system and running something like GPG. This is not going to work for everyone as well as not everyone is going to care about their privacy as the recent Pew poll showed where 56% of polled ok with surveillance program by NSA.
In the end it all comes back to the idea that you create your own privacy by your own actions. Do not trust that the government is going to protect your privacy and certainly don’t believe that the corporations will either. I mean, just look at how many spectacular fails there were on passwords that weren’t hashed or encrypted in any way by companies hacked by LulzSec. As well you should not trust the government, no matter how well intended, that they will be ABLE to protect your privacy as we have seen with recent events like Brad Manning’s theft of (S) data as well as now Snowden (TS/SCI) The actions of one person can be the downfall of every carefully crafted system.
So what is the ROI here? Well….
Crypto and anonymized traffic online will minimize your footprint but eventually they will break you if they want to. You have to be exceptional to fight the nation state level of surveillance. As for the driftnet out there well, unless you go luddite they have a lot of data to sift and commingle. They have a pretty good picture of who you are and much of that comes from the little sisters. Your ROI here is minimal because they have the power and the thing you MUST remember is that CRYPTO IS YOUR FRIEND!! Encrypt sessions for chat and emails and you will leave them with the task of either having to break that crypto or hack your endpoint to see the plain text. Make them work for it. Otherwise you may as well just BCC the NSA.GOV on each and every email today it seems.
The little sisters though are another thing. You can in fact obscure a lot of what you do online and through telco but you have to be diligent. It means time and sometimes money (burn phones or laptops in some cases) to obfuscate as much as you can. The ROI here is that IF you take these pains you are then able to deny them easy access to your habits and patterns. If you start using crypto in sessions and in communications like emails then you will be also geometrically heightening your privacy status. But you have to do it.. AND that seems to be the hard part for many whether it is laziness or apathy I am not sure.
Privacy is what you make of it… He says as he hits enter on a public blog post!
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