What is freedom? Shouldn’t be too hard to answer right? I wanted to hear some responses to this question and to my surprise almost every one of them was different. There is the religious tip, the idea of having freedom from sin. Some use the word freedom in the context of civil rights, the freedom to be treated equally. Others just want to be left alone, the freedom afforded by isolation. Others equate freedom with anarchism. It is exalted as a founding principle of the United States and is just word for nothing left to lose.
So peoples’ ideas of freedom are all over the place. I have my own ideas and I’m sure you have yours. But the one thing that each share is that freedom in general can be taken away involuntarily and with it your ability for self-determination. A handicap, mental or physical, can take your freedom. Any societal construct from divorce to bankruptcy can take your freedom. But the kind of freedom I will specifically be talking about is the overreaching power of governments to strip the freedom of its citizens. The information I’m about to give you is to protect your innocence. Ultimately, it is what it is and I’m not apologizing for it. I sincerely hope you use it to your best advantage.
So EVERY suggestion I will be giving you revolves around one word… anonymize, anonymize, anonymize. At the very least, I hope my suggestions make you reevaluate what you can do to protect yourself. One small step for man, one giant leap for freedom. Where do we begin… the internet of course. So you’re not buying drugs or involved in other deviant activities but do you want anyone with the inclination i.e. law enforcement being able to look at the websites you visit or the content of your email or your bank statement. Hell no!!!! Who knows what they are looking for. When you are on the internet, picture a room full of eyes peeping over your shoulder and that is about right. So what do you do? Anonymize. A firewall and virus scanner come standard in computers today. For Window users, I suggest Malwarebytes as well. Just turn them on. Or use Linux, an almost virus-free zone. There are two electronic signatures that identify you online. Your computer’s MAC address (Media Access Control) is a unique identifier assigned to your computer’s network interfaces. The other is your unique IP (Internet Protocol) which relays data packets across the internet. You know when you’re browsing and some ad pops up that highlights your city, it’s because someone has your IP address. Sorry, there are no horny spring break girls that live down the road.
First, let’s change your IP adresss. Thank god for http://www.torproject.org/. Tor is a proxy. Proxies, if used properly, allow you to string your internet relays through a network. Once your digital request hits its final destination, your IP address has been masked. The most well-known of these proxy networks is the Onion network. The Tor program, the application used to connect to Onion from your device, is easy to set-up and it works. It has a graphic user interface (Vidalia) allowing personal configuration. I use Firefox, a tor friendly browser. The connection runs slower than you might be used to but in my opinion, it is worth it. I have read several stories claiming members of Anonymous, an international hacking ring, have cracked the Onion network which does raise concerns but I have not been able to personally confirm these stories. Onion is the only pubic proxy network I use. There are private proxy systems available. I have also heard that there are other ‘proxy’ networks akin to the Onion being developed that are similar to Onion only in that its goal is to mask your IP address. The security precautions taken on these next-generation proxy networks are Kusanagi-stye and beyond the scope of this article.
Ok, you have almost completed your vanishing act but if you are tracked back to your computer, your MAC address will be waiting. Lucky for us, it is easy to change. Linux has MacChanger. Windows has Technium. Mac systems including IOS and OSX have MAC changers. We will discuss smartphones in more detail later. My point is that there is no excuse not to change it.
So now you are a ghost in the shell. It feels good doesn’t it. But we are not done, not by a long shot. There are new technologies being released all the time that appear cute and cuddly but in fact are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Social media sites, cloud networking, and even your email are all suspect. Social media sites have become a global phenomenon. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… the list goes on and on. Some people have become so dependent on social media that I have read reports about users threatening suicide when Twitter goes offline for short amounts of time. That is terrifying to me. In my opinion, which I know is contrary to the popular one, these sites are nothing more than internet parasites. They magnify moments of indiscretion into life-changing events and although you can ‘delete’ information from your account, all information that has been uploaded to their server is maintained ad infintum. Are you comfortable with that? I’m not. So, at the very least, don’t post any pictures of yourself while under the influence or write any potentially offensive remarks. It is a rare instance in which I support personal censorship for the sake of personal privacy.
iClouds, so cool right? Wrong. Advertised as online data repositories that offer copious amount of secure storage could not be further from the truth. There have already been machinations by guess who, law enforcement, about legal ownership of information stored in clouds and from what I have seen, companies hosting clouds are going along lock, stock, and barrel with law enforcement. I don’t see this as a viable option for anyone who values their privacy. Stick to on-site storage or depending on the situation, set up your own cloud. Fun fact: Piratebay, a torrent site, hosts their servers on military drones that are, at this moment, in flight above the North Atlantic Ocean. Sounds lonely.
Email. So everyone I know has an email account as do I. The introduction of email changed global society and the global economy. It allows for the exchange of information on a scale and speed never before seen and continues to shape personal and business relationships everyday. But by using email, you ARE disseminating information and ideas into the Net and this puts them at risk. The risk doesn’t always come from some pirate hacker but from the companies hosting the servers (Google and Yahoo). For any email that you want to keep strictly confidential there are email accounts available on the Onion network, in particular tormail. Note: In some situations like providing an email to a potential employee using a tormail account might raise some eyebrows so use when necessary. I personally am not sending emails that call for the level of protection tormail provides but it does exist if you need it.
And finally, I will briefly discuss smartphones or more specifically jailbroken smartphones. I could write about this all day but to sum it up, if you own a smartphone and it is not jailbroken, you are depriving yourself of an arsenal of applications to use in your fight for freedom. For example, there has been a lot of publicity regarding the ability of smartphones to track your location with GPS and it’s 100% true. With a jailbroken phone, you can not only disable this feature but provide misinformation in its place. You can change the MAC address of your phone as well as connect to the Onion network. The applications available and the list is long, boggle the mind. And it’s simple. Literally five minutes of your time, costs nothing, plus it comes with very good instructions. Maybe you have considered jailbreaking your smartphone but have balked because ‘if you jailbreak your smartphone, the warranty with your carrier is null and void.’ What is No Alex. That’s right contestant … warranties can only be voided if you change the bandwidth on the phone. This is called unlocking the phone and allows access to other carriers. It is different than jailbreaking which gives users root permission of their smartphone operating system. The following list includes jailbroken apps that increase the overall security of your phone: adblocker, iWipe, Cleanup, Locationd blocker, mac X4 MAC changer, the smartphone tor bundle, PYP (Protect Your Privacy), User Agent Faker, plus many more.
Increasing your level of privacy while you surf the web is possible but very few people do it either through lack of knowledge or laziness. Ignorance is never an excuse but I do admit, the system is working against you. Online communication whether personal or professional is big business. Fight back. Don’t let governments and businesses set the standard for your privacy, set it yourself.
Freedom… You won’t miss it until it’s gone. It’s about governments asserting authority that you never gave them and businesses betraying consumer trust to increase their bottom-line. And most importantly, it’s about you standing up and fighting for your freedom by any means necessary.