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Archive: Outwit Online Surveillance

“Your target may be outside your monitoring domain … You have to hack your target,” blares a video ad by the surveillance firm Hacking Team. According to a recent revelation, these Italian snoopers have sold surveillance technology to governments around the world, from authoritarian regimes to democratic countries, including Switzerland.

As journalists, we can safely assume we are among the top targets of surveillance. It’s not just governments, but also individual politicians, political parties, corporations, criminal and terrorist groups - anyone we write about - could attempt to spy on us.

We are extremely vulnerable to invasion of our privacy unless we make an effort to protect ourselves. All our activities on the Internet – be it browsing the Web, chatting or emailing – are stored, retained, catalogued and tagged by service providers. This information gathering helps them offer targeted ads to their advertisers. Many of them also release this information to governments.

Besides, our data can be captured as it travels across the Internet or mobile networks toward its intended destination.

There are also intrusion technologies that can install malware, or malicious software, on mobile phones and computers – without our knowledge – and gain access to everything on our devices. Malware can also commandeer a device’s camera or microphone for real-time recording.

“Surveillance over internet, mobile, and fixed-line networks can take place with or without the cooperation of the network operator… Authorities have direct access to networks and services and can pull information themselves: Surveillance can be initiated directly by the government agency without the knowledge of the communications service provider,” warns Privacy International.

There’s only one thing that can protect us: encryption.

Encryption involves encoding messages or information in such a way that only authorized people can read it, as data is decoded only as it arrives at the destination or with a password. Encrypted data can be intercepted, but the content will not be revealed.

We can utilize encryption in at least five ways:

One: Devices

Journalists need to fully encrypt the hard disks of their computers. Windows provides an encryption feature, which it calls BitLocker. In Mac, it’s called FileVault. This feature can be turned on by going to “Security & Privacy” settings in “System Preferences.” This is not a foolproof encryption, but it is one of the best options available today.

To encrypt your Android mobile phone, go to “Settings.” Then tap “Security” and then “Encrypt” phone. This is not the same as “Screen Lock,” which only prevents others from using the phone.

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