Due to technological advances, more Americans have grown concerned about their privacy and how to protect themselves from hackers and government snooping. In this post, I outline the definitions of the Snowden Effect and its connection to end-to-end encryption. Also, based on Edward Snowden’s suggestions, I will provide information on how you can make your online information more secure through the use of end-to-end encryption.
The Snowden Effect
In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked NSA documents that revealed the agency was collecting data from American citizens without a warrant, which is against the US constitution. This, in turn, has led to what is called the Snowden Effect, which is the increase in public concern about information security and privacy resulting from disclosures that Edward Snowden made detailing the extent of the National Security Agency ‘s, or the NSA, surveillance program (Sledge). Due to the Snowden Effect, many have changed the way in which they use in using technology (see fig. 1).
Fig. 1. “Americans’ Privacy Strategies Post-Snowden.” Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. N.p., 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.
The Snowden Effect: Relationship to End-to-End Encryption
Due to the Snowden Effect, many have gained an interest in end-to-end encryption, which stems from cryptology, which is the foundation of information security. Snowden used end-to-end encryption for communication. According to Henk C.A. van Tilborg, author of Fundamentals of Cryptology: A Professional Reference and Interactive Tutorial, cryptology involves “the protection of sensitive information against unauthorized access or fraudulent changes has been of prime concern throughout the centuries. Modern communication techniques, using computers connected through networks, make all data even more vulnerable for these threats.” End-to-end encryption is a system of communication where the only people who can read the messages are the people communicating. The first free, widely used end-to-end encrypted messaging software was PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy, a program coded by Phil Zimmermann and released in 1991(Greenberg). No eavesdropper can access the cryptographic keys needed to decrypt the conversation—not even a company that runs the messaging service (Greenberg).
In other words, according to Greenberg, only the endpoint computers hold the cryptographic keys, and the company’s server acts as an illiterate messenger, passing along messages that it can’t itself decipher. While experts suggest that end-to-encryption is not free from flaws, it is the best way to ensure that your information is private and secure. Without end-to-end encryption, your information is vulnerable not just to hackers and the government. Advertisers, social networks, and even email companies collect a huge amount of user data (Kim).
Ways to Secure Your Information
Larry Kim, author of Five Online Privacy Tips from Edward Snowden, listed Snowden’s tips on how to secure your privacy and information online with end-to-end encryption software. Listed below are Snowden’s suggestions:
- Avoid popular online consumer services like Google, Facebook, and Dropbox. According to Snowden, they have improved their security measures but not enough to secure your information. Instead, Snowden suggests SpiderOak whose local encryption means the server never even knows the plain text contents of the data it is storing (Kim).
- Encrypt your hard drive. Encrypting your hard drive offers protection in case your computer is ever lost or stolen (or seized). Some newer operating systems have built-in disk encryption tools such as BitLocker, which is standard with Windows 7(Kim).
- Avoid online tracking with browser plug-ins. Browsers like Chrome and Internet Explorer 10 now offer do-not-track settings, but adding a browser plug-in adds an extra layer of protection and anonymity. Ghostery is one of the more popular options and is available for Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Safari, and mobile systems Android, iOS and Firefox Android (Kim).
- Encrypt online communications in chat and email. You can encrypt your email in Microsoft Outlook or use a Web-based email service with built-in encryption, like Hushmail…ChatCrypt encrypts messages before they leave the browser, makes them visible only to the opposite end user with the password (Kim). Snowden’s favorite is Signal which is both an Android as well as an iOS app. Signal uses your existing phone number and address book, and requires no separate logins, usernames, passwords, or PINs (Mlot).
- Use Tor. Tor stands for ‘The Onion Router’ and was named due to its multiple layers of security. Basically, it bounces your communications around a network of relays, making it difficult (if not impossible) for anyone to track your online activity (Kim).
End-to-end encryption might not be perfect but, as of now, it is the best defense that you can have to protect your privacy, anonymity, and your data.
Greenberg, Andy. “Hacker Lexicon: What Is End-to-End Encryption?” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.
Kim, Larry. “Five Online Privacy Tips from Edward Snowden.” Inc. Inc. 13 Jan. 2015. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
Mlot, Stephanie. “Edward Snowden’s Favorite App Is Now On Android.” PC Magazine. PC Magazine. 3 Nov. 2013. Web. 6 Nov.2015.
Sledge, Matt. “The Snowden Effect: 8 Things That Happened Only Because Of the NSA Leaks.” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 05 June 2014. Web. 06 Nov. 2015.
Tilborg, Hank C.A. Van. Fundamentals of Cryptology: A Professional Reference and Interactive Tutorial. Massachusetts: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003. Web. 06 Nov. 2015.