End-To-End Encryption: The Key to Protecting Your Privacy Online

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).

Pew

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.

Sources

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.

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4 thoughts on “End-To-End Encryption: The Key to Protecting Your Privacy Online

  1. The circumstances of encryption are definitely interesting and worth discussion, but (and I wholeheartedly apologize for bringing up an extremely recent tragedy) I wonder how it’ll be dealt with in consideration of its supposed use to carry out the attacks in Paris. From the disjointed bits and pieces of news I’ve heard, frequent mentions were made that the attackers allegedly used encryption techniques to stay hidden (again, just from what I’ve heard recently).

    If true, I can only imagine that online surveillance will become even tighter in light of this development, with “hidden” sections of the internet coming under higher scrutiny (if they can even be found in their current forms). I don’t want to drag politics into this board, but I’m still curious (and, to be very honest, quite worried) about possible ramifications that may (or may not) come to affect others using encryption for genuine reasons regarding personal security.

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  2. I remember how shocking and distasteful I felt it was when cashiers began openly asking for email, phone numbers, or zip codes at a department store. I resisted vehemently. I even walked out of a popular shoe store without making the intended purchase because the young man insisted he would have to have that information before ringing me up. After some heated debate with the manager and my pointing out that losing a sale was surely not worth following such a gross company policy, I walked out; it seems making a sale was less important to them.

    A decade later, I understand why! The short-term risks of loss were minimal compared to the long-term gamble and pay-off of data-harvesting. Getting the customer and keeping them loyal is still touted as the Holy Goal of business, but I don’t think they really mean it anymore. It seems as if businesses don’t need the customers, or even their money, it’s their data that generates steady revenue.

    (An aside: It seems that others did not like the invasion of privacy, either, if the loud cheers and standing ovations for my refusal sent up from customers throughout the store as I left was any indication. Why did they stay? Why did they purchase? This is the major problem, in my opinion!)

    Whether I like it or not or cooperate or not, today it is a matter of blasé common practice. When I shop in a store, physically or online, I automatically know the company is tracking with cookies and God knows what else. I do what I can to combat these deceits by following some of Snowden’s advice, but there is more than one way to correlate data and I know it!

    It is just getting worse as time goes by and this is the reason I never activate those rewards cards that offer so little in return for tracking my every purchase. Yet, the last two times I have been to Burger King, they have asked me for my name—to “put on your receipt,” they say. Now why in the world would they need that, especially in the drive-thru? I politely refuse to play along in order to delude myself that I have some modicum of control, but I know they can still achieve the purpose of matching my name with my order and debit card (I assume that is the purpose?), but where does it end?

    These sorts of practices were radical and disturbing in the physical a few years ago; companies didn’t pretend they were not gathering your data to sell, use, abuse, or analyze. But, now, the Internet has made it a breeze to collect data. The thing that gets me is how the Internet has really taken the veil of secrecy out of it all but, also, much of the ability to counter the practice.

    And anyone can learn how to do it. It has quickly become a mandatory skill, in fact, no matter what your type of business. I find the tension between trying to encrypt our information so it can’t be discovered and the fact that it is such open knowledge that everywhere you go, everyone you know is practicing this despicable harvesting, right out in the open, to be ironic in the extreme.

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  3. I think encryption is important, as no one wants their data or personal information out there for the world to see, but where do we draw the line? If the government is watching what we’re doing online, or if Google or any other site/store, etc. is mining data, how long will it be until all of our information is completely public? That’s weird to me. Also, and I know the government needs to be able to break these encryptions, but I’m wondering if they have access to the programs people use to do this (much like TOR, etc. in the Dark Internet article), and how it can prevent further atrocities from occuring.

    I think I’ll just stick to watching cat videos, checking the Facebook, and using databases. That seems to be a bit safer than trying to subvert government control or hacking into a school’s website (which I did when I was in junior high).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Good info… never even heard of the Snowden Effect until now!
    After reading the article, along with other posts, I feel much more aware of what encryption is and how it affects the security of everyday life.
    I always felt upset as well when cashiers would ask for my email- God knows I didn’t need anymore junk mail and since I hadn’t requested my receipt to be emailed, I was clueless as to the reason they’d need my email address!
    To me it just feels like using the internet is so much more responsibility than many of us know. We use it for everything and give our personal information (credit card info., mailing address, and so much more when establishing various accounts) without truly understanding how exposed we are. Gosh! …Maybe I should just go back to the old skool way of doing things- cash only!

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