In the face of the expansive and intrusive spying by the state as revealed by Thomas Drake, William Binney, Edward Snowden and others, it is hard for us regular folk to not feel exposed. Apparently it isn’t enough for the government to know our names, birth dates, addresses, incomes and investments. They now also want to know with whom we are communicating, what we are saying, what we are typing, what we are buying, where we’ve been and where we are going.
The massive increase in state intrusion into our private lives is disconcerting because the life blood of a civil society is the ability to keep secrets, whereas the life blood of tyranny is the ability for a shrouded bureaucracy to know everything about everyone. Without privacy, our personal details can be stored, mined and analyzed for the purposes of committing extortion and economic front-running against us as well as subjecting us to fines, arrests and imprisonment.
Unfortunately, the state has had an easy time gathering a great deal of information about us because computer technology and the Internet have evolved without any significant data protection features. Also, just as Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, most obedient citizens have been lulled by the benefits of the “cloud”, social networking, Internet tracking, cash-less transactions and fingerprint login into voluntarily giving up their personal privacy and confidential information. Within a generation people have become accustomed to being tracked, their communications intercepted, their purchases logged, their biometric data recorded and their personal details divulged to the state and even the public at large.
To use a military term, most everyone has been operating at a very low “state of readiness”. The good news is that there are methods we now can employ to increase our individual states of readiness to further protect our private information even if it is transmitted over the Internet.
The army describes its state of readiness using the DEFCON scale. It ranges from 5 (all is normal) to 1 (the nukes are locked ‘n loaded). If the DEFCON scale works for the army, then perhaps a similar scale can work for us in helping to identify our personal states of digital readiness, as follows.
Level 1 citizens are sitting ducks and likely do not realize the wealth of data they are offering to spies and criminals because they:
- Disregard the use of passwords and do not use local data encryption on their laptops, PC’s, smart phones and tablets.
- Use social networking sites like Facebook to broadcast the details of their private lives.
- Use cloud storage for the storing of documents and personal information.
- Use credit and bank cards for all purchases.
- Use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when other options exist.
Level 2 individuals thwart all but the most determined when they:
- Use strong passwords to log on to their computing devices.
- Employ encryption for all data stored on PC’s, portable devices and USB sticks.
- Banish the use of the cloud for data storage as well as social networking sites.
- Store little to no personal data on cell phones and turn off the cell radio and GPS when not required.
- Configure hardware firewalls on cable and ADSL routers to limit external intrusions, as well as software firewalls commonly available on major operating systems.
Level 3 warriors take their security to the max when they:
- Store highly confidential and personal information on an air-gapped PC at home which is never, or rarely, connected to the Internet.
- Use VPN’s and TOR to help obfuscate the origin of their digital transmissions.
- Pre-encrypt all outgoing emails to friends & associates using public key or symmetric encryption.
- Ditch Windows and Apple operating systems in favour of Linux or other less popular operating systems which are less prone to external attacks, viruses and NSA back-doors.
- Use cash, prepaid credit cards or crypto-currencies whenever possible.
- Limit the use of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for transferring confidential information.
By knowing your current state of digital readiness it is possible to determine what you need to do in order to improve it. Unfortunately, most individuals couldn’t be bothered to improve their digital security. Hence, they compromise not only their own security, but those of their friends and associates. If you wish to operate at a given digital defence condition, then you should restrict the type of confidential information shared with others who do not operate at the same level as you.
Of course, we should never decrease the pressure we put on politicians to stay out of our private lives because individual freedom is impossible without privacy. We also need to encourage and support more whistle-blowers like Snowden to come forward and expose the crimes being committed against us. However, by taking steps to further protect our private information, we reduce the ability of the state to gather details about our lives – details that could one day be used against us for purposes we cannot even yet imagine.