Big Brother really IS watching you - Julian Assange's tips on how to keep your data safe

Big Brother really IS watching you - Julian Assange's tips on how to keep your data safe


“Human privacy has been secretly eradicated,” said Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of Wikileaks - before cheerfully warning all iPhone, Blackberry and Gmail users that they were “screwed”.

Assange said, two years ago, “Intelligence contractors around the world” were using those devices as “mass surveillance systems.”

The revelations about the scale of the National Security Agency ’s PRISM programme by whistleblower Edward Snowden proved Assange right - eavesdropping on email and other communications IS happening, and on a massive scale.

[Quiz: Do you believe in the freedom of information?]

Julian Assange himself, of course, takes rather extreme measures to ensure no one reads his communications - he doesn’t use email, at all.

“I don’t use email,” he said in an interview with Google’s Eric Schmidt, “Too dangerous, and encrypted email is possibly even worse, because it is such a flag for end point attacks ... but we do have encrypting phones. Unfortunately they don't work in all countries, but the SMSs work in all countries.”

Both Snowden and Assange are known for taking extreme measures to protect their own privacy - below are some ways to ensure your online life stays private (although you don’t have to go QUITE as far as Julian Assange).

Keep snoopers out of your smartphone

Edward Snowden’s lawyers were surprised when he insisted they put their phones in his fridge in his flat in Hong Kong - creating an improvised “Faraday Cage” to block people snooping on the signals. The metal fridge would block, in theory, any radio signals - thus preventing spies listening in, or reading texts.

Most of us, of course, don’t have to worry about spies intercepting radio signals on the way to the phone mast - we have to worry about people stealing our phones and grabbing the data inside. Only around half of smartphone users do - and the information inside, such as bank apps, social networking apps and emails, hand cybercriminals a “kit” for identity theft. If you’re using 1234 or 0000 as your PIN, that’s just as bad - many models allow up to 10 guesses, and cybercriminals will get in anyway. Choose a longer and more complex PIN - both iPhones and Androids let you do this in Settings - or use iPhone 5S’s fingerprint lock.

[Wikleaks film 'The Fifth Estate' film trailer and clips]

Stop people reading your emails

Julian Assange’s solution to people listening in on his email is simple - he doesn’t use it, at all. Instead, he sends text messages by specialised encrypted phones. But most of us would find that rather difficult - as we’d lose touch with our families and lose our jobs. But there are ways to keep your email a little more secure - without having to go the whole hog.

Many email services, even free ones, offer security features that help keep you safe - on Yahoo Mail for instance, you can instantly see if someone else is reading your mail, and log them out.
Visit "Sign-In and Security," click View your recent sign-in activity. If in doubt, log all of them out and change your password.

Change your security question, too - if it’s something such as your first school, that may be easy for cybercriminals to guess. Such info is often available via Facebook, for instance. Make up your own question, and make it hard.

Lastly, change your password - and don’t make it easy to guess. No family names, no pet’s names, no placenames, nothing on TV, at the cinema, or in the charts - cybercriminals will crack those quickly. If your workplace forces you to add numbers or special characters, don’t put them at the end of your password - hackers refer to this as a “Joe” password - and the programmes hackers use to crack passwords will be through it in seconds. Instead, why not use a sentence, like “Assange lives in an embassy” and put special characters such as stars, quotes and exclamation marks between each word. That gives you a password that you can remember, but will take a hacker a very long time to crack.

Learn to use “crypto” like a pro

In 2010, four of Julian Assange’s “work” laptops were stolen - and he filed affidavits against governments who he alleged were behind the thefts. Assange would not, of course, have been too worried - the data inside was heavily encrypted, coded so that only authorised readers can access it.

But in Bradley Manning’s trial, it emerged that digital forensics experts HAD cracked some of Assange and Manning’s chats - Manning had used a password to encrypt his files which he reused as the laptop’s administrator password.

If you have information you want to protect, encryption is not a bad idea - it will stop most cybercriminals in their tracks, so you can keep files safe, even if your PC or smartphone is stolen. PC software such as Norton 360 allows users to encrypt files, so they can’t be opened without a password, “Encrypting these files is the next step in computer data protection, as this will prevent any unauthorized use or abuse of the information in a situation where the saved data is stolen,” Norton says. On a home PC, you can use this to protect sensitive banking information or other private files.

If you’re really worried, you can encrypt emails, too - although this process is a bit fiddly. Visit GNU Privacy Guard - http://www.gnupg.org/ - for a basic guide, and set up a new email address for extra safety.