How the Government (and Bad Guys) Intercept Electronic Data

The news of the NSA spying using PRISM should not come as a surprise to anyone in the intelligence community. Electronic spying is as normal as breathing. And when a 27-year-old American traitor with little life experience (he was 15 when 9/11 hit) blows the lid off of a current spy program, it’s time to define why and what needs protecting.

  • PRISM: This is a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) since 2007. Much of the information collected by PRISM is done via warranted tapping into servers here in the U.S. that route lots of data overseas. Its purpose is to discover “chatter” and prevent manmade disasters.
  • ECHELON: ECHELON is a name used in global media and popular culture to describe a signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network created to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies during the Cold War in the early 1960s. The ability to intercept communications depends on the medium used, be it radio, satellite, microwave, cellular or fiber optic.
  • Cell site simulators: Slate.com reports this “equipment is designed to send out a powerful signal that covertly dupes phones within a specific area into hopping onto a fake network. The feds say they use them to target specific groups or individuals and help track the movements of suspects in real time, not to intercept communications. But by design, Stingrays, sometimes called ‘IMSI catchers,’ collaterally gather data from innocent bystanders’ phones and can interrupt phone users’ service.”
  • Remote-access Trojans: A remote-access Trojan (RAT) is a malware program that includes a back door for administrative control over the target computer. RATs are usually downloaded invisibly with a user-requested program—such as a game—or sent as an email attachment.

These are just a few of the ways data is collected/gathered/stolen. So should you be worried? If you are up to no good, yes. If you have personal information on your devices that can be used to steal your identity, yes.

However, I’m personally not concerned about data being collected by my government. I’m well aware of what I’m electronically communicating and nothing incriminates me. But what does worry me is when bad guys get hold of data via RATs and use it to take over accounts or open new accounts. Using antivirus, antispyware and a firewall is your best defense.

We can’t do much to protect ourselves from government surveillance other than simply not communicating digitally or using less popular search engines, social sites and email programs. But there are tools such as TOR and Hotspot Shield VPN that mask IP addresses and can be used to anonymize communications.

If you want to seriously hide, then using anonymizers to create accounts and then continuously communicate using them is the most effective way to go.

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield VPN. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning AmericaDisclosures.

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