TODO: Revise this for Australia. where it is illegal for companies to sell encryption without spyware, and where it is illegal to confess to the spyware. Information in Australia is accessed freely by an unaccountable surveillance apparatus thanks to the Ass Access Bill. No worries, mate it will be fine, fingers crossed. Don’t feel too bad, though, aspiring terrorists! YOU can still have encryption, but for the average citizen or business, it is no longer feasible.
UPDATE: begun, at Confidentiality, state surveillance edition,
Infosec is hard for the same reason as ethical consumption is hard: other people bear the costs of peoples’ bad behaviour. Leaving that aside, what can we do?
On one hand I agree that making it too easy for everyone to go dark is bad in the age of Moore’s Law of Mad Science. OTOH, making it too easy for the state to backdoor incredibly pervasive spy technology with no oversight during the great democratic malaise is a fragile way to run a society. When it is illegal for citizens to watch the state but legal for the state to watch the citizens, we have damaged the key oversight function of democracy.
Return to normal service
Practice of confidentiality; the twin to politics of confidentiality. Also known as privacy, if you are thinking about your on data, but that’s a little selfish now. Every time you reveal a secret about yourself, you are also revealing a secret about whomever else is involved, which is a bigger thing.
This is about keeping your exposure to legal surveillance minimal. illegal sureillance is a separate thing.
If you want to know about my unsavoury habits you can just ask me personally; I live in a somewhat-liberal sorta democracy so it’s no biggie if I get up to things that are OK in Australia even if they aren’t elsewhere.
However, if people tell me their secrets that is a different matter. I don’t want my confidantes’s sexuality, personal tragedies or commercial secrets blurted all over the internet. Maintaining the confidences people have placed in me is a serious business.
So, how not to be a shit confidentiality friend: tl;dr Security Planner will walk you through this. Or if you want to feel fancier, Andryou’s beginner-friendly tools or Quincy Larson, How to encrypt your entire life in less than an hour.
Technoconfidentiality is difficult and tedious for our monkey minds to get a handle on. However, it’s not too hard. The trick is, don’t get hung up on thinking you are some kind of secret agent who needs to hide from the NSA. If the NSA cares about you, you are not my target audience; I’m sure someone else in your concrete bunker is way more expert than me anyway. I am sure the NSA are a bunch of shits, but they probably aren’t going to harass you personally unless you are in a very unfortunate geopolitical situation. If you live in a repressive state, I wish you all the best, but don’t expect to get actionable advice from an article I maintain to persuade my mum to protect herself from identity thieves and my friends to stop giving free information to Facebook.
Instead, for us normal people, the rule should be: Start by not giving your information away for free to everyone. And don’t simply surrender because it’s too hard: That’s just doing what big business wants you to do..
And don’t give up because you have ‘nothing to hide’; I can’t be arsed making this argument; many others have. Short version: Even if you personally had nothing to hide, and if you were so committed to leading such a facile insipid life that nothing you have ever done will ever offend anyone with power over you then you still don’t have the right to make that call for your loved ones. Your friends and family don’t deserve to have you spraying their personal histories over the internet for them.
That said, just because I’m talking about what our attitude should be as informed consumers of the addictive drug of single-serve online socialising, doesn’t mean I’m blaming Jane/Joe Public for not getting it right. As long as corporate social networks are permitted to harness their heady blend of plausibly-deniable social engineering on the vulnerable, we are all put at greater risk.
Case in point: A friend of mine just showed me his facebook profile public link before friending me; on open, public display to anyone who googled him, were pictures of his children, his home, his friends, a dying relative in hospital with confidential medical information and records in the background; With his well-intentioned, sociable handphone wielding he has voluntarily compromised the privacy, and credit-worthiness of his cancer-afflicted aunt.
This kind of thing is tricky. How do you stop friends with crappy privacy hygiene? Privacy is a weakest-link kind of concept, and as long as Facebook can rely on a reasonable fraction of the population voluntarily and unconsciously selling the rest out, we are all compromised. I know that everything I do in front of my aforementioned friend will be obediently tagged and put on public display for the use of not only facebook but any passing mobster, data miner or insurance company. The thing is, it is not sufficient if privacy-violating companies are able to get away with it if in principle experts could avoid some of the pitfalls; Social media is a habit-forming drug that potentially transmits ailments such as credit-score-risk, misinformation and confidential data breaches.
Is it consistence particularly consistence stance to regulate, say, alcohol tobacco and gambling but not social media usage?
Anyway, with blame for the abuse appropriately apportioned to the predators, let’s get back to what we, the victims, can do by taking what responsibility is available to us to take, for all that it should not be required of us.
Right now, if you are a typical internet user, you are walking around with no pants on online. Everyone can see your junk. You don’t need to wear a tinfoil hat to hide your junk, not if your anatomy is anything typical; you just need to put some pants on.
This enpantsing will be more tedious than we’d like, because the world is badly designed, but let’s start with what’s achievable, and work towards making it easier next time, eh?
How we could do it better now
So, some baby steps towards a healthier privacy regime. I am going to list some techniques that have aroused my attention. Later I will triage them according to how urgent is the priority of the privacy leak they plug and how onerous to handle; e.g. something like:
- first keep my credit card details out of the hands of the mafia, then
- keep gratuitous personal data out of the hands of unscrupulous corporations, next
- keep nude selfies and pony tail pics out of the hands of potential employers
- keep personal data out of the hands of prying foreign security agencies
- keep personal data out of the hands of prying local security agencies
These reflect my personal needs; if you are actually a person of specific interest to state security agencies, or a mafia credit card thief, you will probably have different ones.
Of course, these do have relations to one another. How can you keep your data secret if a state actor is compromising the very hardware of the servers that store your information, or just network security in general is shit because of terribly and ubiquitous decision. NB even if you don’t buy the Bloomberg article, there’s no reason to suppose it won’t eventually be true
Practically, first step, I would like to minimise the amount of information complete strangers get about me for free. For example, I would prefer the mafia not to be able to buy stuff with my credit cards, I’d prefer my personal relationships are not used sell crap to me, I’d prefer not to release those awkward photos from when I had a pony tail.
Broadly, some stuff I’d like to keep private, some stuff I’d like to share, and some stuff, I’m happy to share for the right price to vetted buyers; I want to assign my personal information to the correct publicness categories, and at a better price point. And by “better”, I mean, “not selling off the foundations of functional democracy for all future times to unaccountable interests for a few dollars a year,” which seems steep for kitten pictures.
- Don’t leave your computer unattended, because things like PoisonTap mean that anyone who can get to your USB port can log on to your websites.
- Do you really need Bluetooth? It’s probably not secure, turn it off if you don’t.
- Prism break is a chaotic jumble of solutions for secure communication. Excellent reference, although it really needs to incorporate some idea of how popular their suggested solutions are; after all, most of these things are only of any damn use if your friends also use ’em.
- Quick guide to the basics of encryption (or how about one with stick figures)
Politics of privacy
See the quantified other.
Keeping your friends’ secrets away from corporate surveillance
Keeping your friends’ and also journalists’ secrets away from government surveillance
- GNU privacy handbook
- I2P seems to be hot right now
- freenet is somewhat hot
- NSA’s own Mac security advice
Genkin, Daniel, Adi Shamir, and Eran Tromer. 2013. “RSA Key Extraction via Low-Bandwidth Acoustic Cryptanalysis.” Cryptology ePrint Archive, Report 2013/857, 2013. http://eprint.iacr.org. http://web.elastic.org/~fche/mirrors/www.jya.com/2013/12/acoustic-cryptanalysis.pdf.
Roth, Aaron. 2014. The Algorithmic Foundations of Differential Privacy. Now Publishers. http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~aaroth/Papers/privacybook.pdf.
Sarigol, Emre, David Garcia, and Frank Schweitzer. 2014. “Online Privacy as a Collective Phenomenon.” In Proceedings of the Second ACM Conference on Online Social Networks, 95–106. COSN ’14. Dublin, Ireland: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2660460.2660470.
Valentino-DeVries, Jennifer, Natasha Singer, Michael H. Keller, and Aaron Krolik. 2018. “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret.” The New York Times: Business, December 10, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/12/10/business/location-data-privacy-apps.html, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/12/10/business/location-data-privacy-apps.html.