Government Spying: Is It Worse Than You Think?
It would seem the Orwellian prophecies were right—the big brother of our own nation now can spy on anyone, at any time. The notion of privacy has been whittled away to nothing more than a splinter, able to be broken with very little effort.
There are those of us who understand the magnitude of this shift and how it will likely affect the future. We can see the truth behind the deception and, despite the temptation, refuse to avert our eyes from what’s happening.
The United States is the King of Government Surveillance
While it’s true many, many governments around the world spy on their citizens, the U.S. is arguably one of the most advanced.
The country’s technological capabilities are so comprehensive and so effective, the majority of Americans have no idea how widespread the monitoring is. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to trust a government who takes punitive action against whistleblowers who seek only the truth, regardless of how ugly it may be.
Televisions, smartphones, even software—all these things are now vulnerable to CIA and NSA hacking, offering the government access to our sounds, images, communications, private information, and yes—our very lives.
Once we understand how exactly these regulatory agencies have turned trust into transgression, the question then becomes: How do we protect ourselves?
The majority of Americans are addicted to their smartphones and personal computers. They have become the lifeblood of a sophisticated nation.
As a result, those devices and their operating systems pose the biggest risk to our personal security. From built-in backdoors in operating systems to vulnerabilities deliberately created by vendors, any brand-new PC off the shelf is likely already outfitted with a government monitor.
Recent online leaks regarding the latest batch of NSA spy tools have been a glaring reminder of just how commonplace the practice has become.
Windows, by far the most popular OS, has become rife with remote surveillance possibilities. Even without government interference, there are a staggering amount of tracking and monitoring tools in Windows 10, from recorded keystrokes to automatic user images to unauthorized sharing of your private Wi-Fi network.
Couple this with NSA and CIA tools like the DoublePulsar backdoor malware loader, and you have a whole new breed of OS that couldn’t be more exposed.
Microsoft patched the vulnerability that once allowed DoublePulsar to run but there are undoubtedly plenty more of these hidden programs operating behind the scenes.
Yes, Macs are slightly better, but still not entirely safe. Last year, when Apple demonstrated a strong pro-consumer move by refusing to unlock an iPhone involved in a government investigation, a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon for some level of influential advocacy.
But, as it stands today, Mac’s OS is built on a Linux platform, which invariably means all Apple computers have the same measure of security risk.
No OS is truly perfect; however, hardened versions of Linux are probably the most private and secure.
Safety-focused distros like Arch and Kali are smart choices for discreet users, but because Linux is notorious for being complex and unintuitive, they require significantly more effort to reach the same protection level of a Windows or Mac device.
If you have waited in line at Starbucks recently, or any other place for that matter, you know a person’s smartphone is just an extension of their hand – and a very vulnerable extension, at that.
Android operating systems have the dubious distinction of working in extremes—they are either supremely secure or infested with vulnerabilities. This is because Android is not centrally maintained or regulated by a specific company like Apple’s iOS.
Phone manufacturers are free to develop their own versions of the Android, which can contain significant security risks or very few, depending on the design.
And then there are some Android versions that are so riddled with weaknesses, the White House goes insane every time President Trump picks up his trusty pre-election Android device.
That said, iOS phones also have several vulnerabilities, like fake government-created apps in the App Store and remote monitoring through Find My iPhone. The only reassuring aspect of this scenario is Apple’s visible commitment to protecting consumer privacy, despite the government’s best efforts to breach it.
The Internet of Things
This catchphrase-turned-concept illustrates our basic human desire for connection.
In our enthusiasm to sync up our devices, our information, and our lives, security often becomes an afterthought. But, in recent days, it has become increasingly obvious that our privacy and our safety are, in fact, on the line when we blindly enjoy the internet of things without considering the threats.
Recently, the nation (and much of the world) shared a moment of communal astonishment when it was discovered that third parties could use Samsung TV’s to listen to users through the TV’s built-in microphone. Given the government’s close ties to virtually every electronics manufacturer out there, a finding like this leaves little room for speculation.
Further, any “smart” appliance with Bluetooth ability is ready at all times to pair with outside devices, which means everyday things like refrigerators, microwaves, or car stereos can be accessed by outside devices that can easily overcome each appliance’s sub-par security: predictable passwords and outdated Wi-Fi protocols.
While visualizing your refrigerator as a spy tool may seem amusing, the truth is any system on your network is just one jump away from your router. And if an attacker can connect to that, they can access any other device in your home, including the smartphone next to your bed.
How to Protect Yourself
Proving our government’s ability to spy doesn’t take much effort these days. It’s real and it’s happening all the time. But is it happening to you? You’ll likely never know.
That’s why this is the perfect time to start thinking about how we can protect ourselves from the growing threat of governmental monitoring.
How can it be done? Can it even be done? The answer is yes.
Although the technological landscape is always changing, there are still some effective ways to retain your privacy and ward off the threat of invasive monitoring.
Protect Your PC With Linux
For PC protection, consider learning how to install and use a Linux OS because it offers the most security. Also, utilizing a VPN with protected communication channels and encrypted email whenever possible is highly recommended, as these practices will create a private tunnel in cyberspace where your information can travel from place to place in a hidden format.
Don’t Install Suspicious Software
Never install any unknown or questionable software because it could be a platform for remote monitoring vulnerabilities. And for those of us who demand the utmost security, it is possible to wipe, format, and reinstall your OS on a regular schedule to ensure no backdoors or malware have covertly crept onto your system.
Use ROM’s to Protect Your Smartphone
Protecting mobile devices is a bit trickier because they typically don’t permit extensive customization like PCs do. Mobile VPNs which allow for encrypted communication through cell towers and Wi-Fi are available, as well as smart uninstallers able to remove built-in apps with vulnerabilities.
For Android, conscientious users would do well to check out operating systems like CopperheadOS or UnaOS for increased privacy. But because these are non-standard ROM’s, some effort will be required to properly install and use them. Options are greatly limited for iOS phones, as there is essentially no customization to be found for these devices.
The only truly effective method would involve flashing a custom ROM on your iPhone and completely removing the iOS platform. It’s important to note, however, you will lose almost every functionality that makes an iPhone unique, at which point you might as well just choose an Android.
Keep IoT Devices Off Your Network When Possible
When it comes to security, IoT devices are the most challenging because there is almost nothing to them. The product is what it is, with no option for OS configuration or programming, and you will need to accept that fact.
At a minimum, keep these devices off your network unless absolutely necessary, in which case they should be placed on a separate VLAN that cannot access your regular network. And of course, turn off Bluetooth and any recording devices, physically disconnecting them from the circuit board if necessary.
Those Who Are Smartest Will Be the Safest
While it would be pleasant to think our government is primarily concerned with balancing the budget, taking care of our needs, and looking towards a brighter tomorrow, the fact remains that they are often preoccupied with issues of capitalism and how to best serve their own needs, whatever they may be.
They function largely outside the visibility and accountability of their citizens, regularly making choices that involve no one’s voice but their own; this affects us all.
And as a result, they feel it is entirely appropriate to watch, monitor, and spy on the very people they are employed to protect.
Every time there is a new story about how the government is compromising our privacy and our safety through their self-serving need for surveillance, another precious ounce of trust is lost between citizens and their country.
It is more important than ever to put down the physical weapons and pick up something far more powerful— knowledge.
At Ctemplar we use 4096-bit end-to-end encryption that ensures maximum protection. In fact, this encryption allows users to communicate online in the most secure and private manner. This end-to-end encryption prevents anyone, even the one who is monitoring the network, from reading and viewing the private conversations, emails, shared files etc. What makes an end-to-end encryption so special is the fact that you have full control over your privacy and who reads your private messages.
CTemplar is Headquartered in Iceland, which means the webmail server is situated at a region that encompasses a high level of data protection. Additionally, there are no legal agreements involved with other countries regarding sharing and disclosing the private data of its users. We provide an ideal platform for sending emails and sharing files, with no hidden website backdoors; rather, it provides an open source system.