iSpy

Evan Provost, junior, scrolls through his phone as he waits on the bus. He believes he is alone. (Photo courtesy of Ray Youman)Evan Provost, junior, scrolls through his phone as he waits on the bus. He believes he is alone. (Photo courtesy of Ray Youman)

We, as a student body, have grown up surrounded by technology. Ranging from desktop computers to mobile phones and even wearable devices, humans now have the ability to mass communicate and convey ideas to people who aren’t even nearby.

As technology users, we are normally taught that such devices protect our privacy and keep us safe from intruders, so long as we use security apps and don’t hand out passwords. In light of several recent exposures and events, however, breaches have confirmed that we aren’t alone when we use these tools.

In June 2013, millions of confidential government documents and slides were copied by Edward Snowden, an ex NSA contractor, and distributed by dozens of news sources and leaks. In his subsequent interview with The Guardian about XKEYSCORE, a formerly confidential NSA program, he claimed that the program covered “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet.” Countless other leaks through the Snowden file dumps added to the assertion that everything you do on the internet is viewable one way or another by numerous government agencies.

A more worrisome revelation for ordinary people came just a few weeks ago as President Trump authorized a rollback on internet privacy restrictions for numerous corporations wishing to collect data on ordinary American citizens. Originally created under the Obama Administration and intended to go into effect this December, the proposed FCC bill was designated to make telecommunications and internet providers ask permission before selling customers personal data to third parties, which entails anything with a trademark attached to it. Instead, our information and data remains buyable to the highest bidders, effectively continuing to sell our data for profit. This data can in turn be used to target ads or send us junk that we don’t need.

So, in this new and unexplored age of digital-ism and mass communication, how are you supposed to know who’s watching? Furthermore, how can you keep yourself safe from potential intruders? This is a guide to the ordinary student who doesn’t have too much to hide, yet still wishes to be safe from annoying people who might want in on their private lives.

The first step in assessing your technological security is determining how much of your life is stored on a record other than paper. If you truly do prefer to keep your information on paper and have nothing to hide, there’s much less to worry about. The problem with this is that very few people today fall into this category of offline purity. In fact, almost anything you receive, store, or send on your computer and mobile devices, both on the internet and on a device, can be accessed by an outside source, such as these registered corporations.

Second, you have to assess how much you care about your “private” information. How much information do you actually store on your devices, and how far are you willing to go to protect said information?

An email is relatively low risk but should still be handled with caution to avoid being sent malicious data, which entails anything from phishing scams to blackmail. A full name, in fact, is usually more severe. Something as seemingly harmless as inserting this into your bio on Instagram can open a wide range of options for an intruder’s toolbox, including your address, family members, email, and telephone number. Open ended services such as Spokeo offer this treatment for as little as $13.95 up front. This web scraper even makes a claim that whoever you wish to stalk won’t be notified of your search.

The hardest data points to access are usually one’s identity and modes of payment, including credit/debit cards and online banking. These usually require more sophisticated techniques to reach. This category should still be treated with great precaution, however, as they are the most damaging if acquired by someone else. This can be used to commit identity theft, fraud, and unauthorized purchases to your bank account.

Now that you’re educated on the things that could be accessed by others, it’s time to take measures to protect your information. There are a couple of different ways to ensure that your secrets remain secrets on the web.

First of all, use VPN to your advantage. Most of us students at Leesville already utilize a VPN system of some sort on our phones. This enables us to use applications and websites normally blocked by our school wifi network, Lunenburg. What you might not know is how a VPN actually operates.

A Virtual Private Network, commonly known as a VPN, basically hooks up your own private network to that of a public one, allowing you the same securities that a private network has to offer. In themselves, private networks utilize private IP addresses, which can be used to trace a user precise location. It is also difficult for the host network, such a Lunenburg, to connect directly to one of these private networks, hence making it difficult to restrict them from using blocked apps or websites.

Besides the obvious use of hurdling network restrictions, use VPN to better your security by making it harder for a network, or the people on it, to trace you. Large spaces, such as airports, are a good application for this as many people use the network simultaneously. In this scenario, VPN will protect you from hackers who may be trying to gather large amounts of information, ranging from emails to credit cards, from fellow flyers.

A second way to better your internet security is through managing your data collection on your web browser. As Google is used by most students for this purpose, it will serve as our example.

Google utilizes numerous location tracking and sampling tools whenever you make a search. This information can be used in a variety of ways. One may use location tracking to their advantage by using the maps application provided, helping them get to where they want to go. One may use a sampling tool, such as prediction services, to help load web pages faster by filtering out unwanted results. Problems can also be automatically reported to better the search experience for everyone.

What you do and don’t want Google tracking is up to you. You shouldn’t, for example, allow all sites to access your physical location, which is an option provided in the Google settings toolbar. This could open you up to a host of problems on a malicious web page. You should, however, enable sites to ask permission before tracking your location. This could be useful when making purchases, as sites could automatically track where to ship your order, or when purchasing movie tickets to find theaters near you.

As a final rule of thumb, stay smart and treat everyday online matters accordingly. In real life, you wouldn’t hand your address to some creepy stranger, so don’t hand out your identity online unless you know it’s to someone or something that you trust.

Our right to privacy in our nation is a right, not a privilege. While companies and snoopers may not always advocate for our personal interests, we as individuals can protect our interests by responsibly protecting our data and educating others to do the same.

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