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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by a joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop billions of dollars from illegally being moved out of continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development 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.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky 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