Want to be safe from the NSA's prying eyes? Here are some tips.

Illustration for article titled Want to be safe from the NSA's prying eyes? Here are some tips.

Every day, we get new revelations from the Snowden Files that suggest the NSA has been spying on pretty much everybody's activities online. Now computer security expert Bruce Schneier has written up a few tips on how to make sure you're not one of the people they're watching.


Schneier has written an excellent article for the Guardian today about NSA surveillance and how it works. He's been consulting with journalists there for weeks on the information that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden shared with the Guardian and other newspapers after he fled the United States. Read all of what Schneier has to say, and pay attention to his advice:

1) Hide in the network. Implement hidden services. Use Tor to anonymize yourself. Yes, the NSA targets Tor users, but it's work for them. The less obvious you are, the safer you are.

2) Encrypt your communications. Use TLS. Use IPsec. Again, while it's true that the NSA targets encrypted connections – and it may have explicit exploits against these protocols – you're much better protected than if you communicate in the clear.

3) Assume that while your computer can be compromised, it would take work and risk on the part of the NSA – so it probably isn't. If you have something really important, use an air gap. Since I started working with the Snowden documents, I bought a new computer that hasnever been connected to the internet. If I want to transfer a file, I encrypt the file on the secure computer and walk it over to my internet computer, using a USB stick. To decrypt something, I reverse the process. This might not be bulletproof, but it's pretty good.

4) Be suspicious of commercial encryption software, especially from large vendors. My guess is that most encryption products from large US companies have NSA-friendly back doors, and many foreign ones probably do as well. It's prudent to assume that foreign products also have foreign-installed backdoors. Closed-source software is easier for the NSA to backdoor than open-source software. Systems relying on master secrets are vulnerable to the NSA, through either legal or more clandestine means.

5) Try to use public-domain encryption that has to be compatible with other implementations. For example, it's harder for the NSA to backdoor TLS than BitLocker, because any vendor's TLS has to be compatible with every other vendor's TLS, while BitLocker only has to be compatible with itself, giving the NSA a lot more freedom to make changes. And because BitLocker is proprietary, it's far less likely those changes will be discovered. Prefer symmetric cryptography over public-key cryptography. Prefer conventional discrete-log-based systems over elliptic-curve systems; the latter have constants that the NSA influences when they can.

Read the rest over at The Guardian, and check out Schneier's blog post on the topic.


Annalee Newitz

This isn't about hiding wrongdoings. A lot of us just don't want to be spied on as a matter of principle. Even if we are complete angels, we think it sucks that a government agency (or, hell, a private industry) is watching us. We also don't like it when the government breaks the law. So we want to have these tips, and use them, to make a point. And that point is: Even if we are being good, and have never had naughty thoughts in our lives, DON'T FREAKING SPY ON US.