News / Science & Technology

How To Shield From Internet Snooping

Computer screen shows a password attack in progress at computer security training program in Northfield, Vermont.
Computer screen shows a password attack in progress at computer security training program in Northfield, Vermont.
George Putic
When news broke about U.S. government agencies collecting metadata about its citizens’ Internet and phone communications, many were surprised by its scope.  The surveillance covered a vast number of Internet messages and phone calls.  The government did not deny the action but pointed out that the collected data contained, not the substance of the communication, but the so-called metadata.

Although many suspected that U.S. intelligence agencies were collecting data about suspicious messages and calls, it was assumed that the actions were covered by court orders and aimed at specific targets.  But reports say, during a specific time period, practically all e-mail messages were intercepted and their metadata stored for possible later analysis.

Government agencies claim that they collect only metadata and not the content of intercepted messages.  But KoolSpan Chief Technology Officer Bill Supernor says metadata holds very valuable information for the intelligence services.

“Metadata is the generic term used to describe information that describes information.  So the metadata of an e-mail may be who was it sent to, who it was from, the date, what size the message is," said Supernor.  "Many e-mails were passed through a number of POPs [Post Office Protocol].  A number of different e-mail relay stations and that kind of information may be regarded to be metadata.”

Why is communication over the Internet not private?  If computers each have their own addresses, how can e-mail be read by someone else?

Supernor says to understand this we have to go to the beginnings of the Internet.

“When the Internet was first designed and envisioned, it was envisioned as a system for open communication between people at different universities," said Supernor.  "And over time it grew into a system for sharing information between defense related organizations."

So at first, security was not the primary concern because nobody thought the Internet would be used for private communication among people, companies and government officials.  Security was added later, he says, almost as an afterthought.

Another problem, says Supernor, stems from the networked nature of the Internet.

“Networks imply lines of communication connected at hubs or endpoints," he said.  "And any one of those hubs or endpoints can be a point at which information could be pulled off and snooped upon or intercepted by both friendly and unfriendly parties.”

Supernor adds that storing metadata requires considerably less space than storing the content of the messages.  He says metadata is much easier to index and catalogue, but only so much can be done with that information.

Reports indicate U.S. intelligence agencies also collected metadata of phone conversations, with information about originators and receivers of calls, duration of calls and possibly even the types of phones used.  Supernor says that in the case of cellular, it can show which cell tower the phones used at the time a call was placed, received, and the time the call ended on either phone.

“The metadata can contain some pretty interesting information in terms of the physical location," said Supernor.  "And if anybody ever used some of the mapping applications on the smartphone, with the GPS turned off, that’s a lot of information that’s available to know about, right down to the city block where a person was located.”

Intelligence agencies are presumably after terrorists and criminals.  But what about other hackers who may be after financial and other personal data?

Supernor advises “the best thing you can do to defend yourself is pick random passwords, so nothing that involves your cats or dogs or car, or the names of any of these things - your address, your family, any of the kinds of things that appear in social media.  It’s such a weapon in the hand of the bad guys.”

In the case of cell phones or smartphones, Supernor says one should especially guard valuable information such as Social Security numbers and credit card numbers.

”SMS is something I would not use for exchanging secure information," he said.  "That transport is just not a safe transport to use for that kind of information.”

Bill Supernor says that the Internet is not a secure means of communication and strongly advises encryption of messages containing sensitive information.  This is especially true for commercial companies and organizations that want to make sure that the private information they share stays behind an impenetrable screen.

You May Like

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid