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How to protect your PC from PRISM surveillance

Mark Hachman | June 10, 2013
Thursday afternoon, a bombshell dropped: Two leading reports claimed that the U.S. government has been spying on emails, searches, Skype calls, and other electronic communications used by Americans for the last several years, via a program known as PRISM.

And there's no sense in surfing using Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Safari, either. Sure, there's Firefox and Opera, but the PCWorld's review of the Tor browser shows it to be a slow but anonymous way of browsing the Internet.

Ditch your smartphone
If we assume that Apple, Google and Microsoft are being monitored, then the safest way to avoid being tracked is to ditch your smartphone. A number of services already ask for your location, in the name of providing better search results or services. And BlackBerry, of course, is no better; that company has already acceded to requests to allow foreign governments access to its data, so the paranoiacs should ditch them, too. Feature phones may be no better, but the amount of information that can be captured is much smaller.

Encryption, encryption, encryption
Eventually, however, you're going to have to start communicating with someone, probably electronically. If you'd like to think those conversations are private, it's time to start thinking about encryption.

To start out with, you'll want to encrypt your hard drive and existing files. Alex Castle's piece discusses using TrueCrypt and other tools to start securing your files. Note that some of the tools he recommends are from the providers that PRISM is reportedly monitoring; you'll have to decide if you want to go elsewhere for encryption protection.

From there, protect your email by encrypting it. To secure your email effectively, you should encrypt three things, Eric Geier notes: the connection from your email provider; your actual email messages; and your stored, cached, or archived email messages. If you want to take it even further, consider using a secure email service. Email will travel over the Internet, where it can be accessed by theoretically just about anyone. Companies like Silent Circle (founded by PGP creator Paul Zimmermann) profess to offer secure voice, email, voice communications via dedicated connections between subscribed devices.

Subscribe to a VPN
In the same vein, consider signing up a virtual private network, which creates an encrypted "tunnel" to another server, which then acts as an agent on your behalf. Eric Geier's piece on how to set up a VPN explains how to do this. Note that the performance of your PC may suffer somewhat, as the latency to funnel communications back and forth (some solutions use servers based in the EU, for example) may take some time. But security layered upon the encryption applied by other solutions may provide some additional reassurance that your communications are private.


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