As I said, those of us who dwell on the Internet aren’t going to take the NSA and GCHQ’s attack lightly. We have more firepower than they realize and have unleashed one of our best weapons, Bruce Schneier. Mr. Schneier has been working with Mr. Greenwald for the last two weeks and has written a short list of things, based on the information provided by Mr. Snowden, you can do to keep yourself secure online:
1) Hide in the network. Implement hidden services. Use Tor to anonymize yourself. Yes, the NSA targets Tor users, but it’s work for them. The less obvious you are, the safer you are.
2) Encrypt your communications. Use TLS. Use IPsec. Again, while it’s true that the NSA targets encrypted connections – and it may have explicit exploits against these protocols – you’re much better protected than if you communicate in the clear.
3) Assume that while your computer can be compromised, it would take work and risk on the part of the NSA – so it probably isn’t. If you have something really important, use an air gap. Since I started working with the Snowden documents, I bought a new computer that has never been connected to the internet. If I want to transfer a file, I encrypt the file on the secure computer and walk it over to my internet computer, using a USB stick. To decrypt something, I reverse the process. This might not be bulletproof, but it’s pretty good.
4) Be suspicious of commercial encryption software, especially from large vendors. My guess is that most encryption products from large US companies have NSA-friendly back doors, and many foreign ones probably do as well. It’s prudent to assume that foreign products also have foreign-installed backdoors. Closed-source software is easier for the NSA to backdoor than open-source software. Systems relying on master secrets are vulnerable to the NSA, through either legal or more clandestine means.
5) Try to use public-domain encryption that has to be compatible with other implementations. For example, it’s harder for the NSA to backdoor TLS than BitLocker, because any vendor’s TLS has to be compatible with every other vendor’s TLS, while BitLocker only has to be compatible with itself, giving the NSA a lot more freedom to make changes. And because BitLocker is proprietary, it’s far less likely those changes will be discovered. Prefer symmetric cryptography over public-key cryptography. Prefer conventional discrete-log-based systems over elliptic-curve systems; the latter have constants that the NSA influences when they can.
Mr. Schneier does rightly point out that many Internet users aren’t currently capable of doing all of these things. To those of you who don’t know how to use the above mentioned tools, learn. Information on all of the tools Mr. Scheneier mentioned is freely available online. If you’re still having trouble I’m more than happy to help. Shoot me an e-mail at blog [at] christopherburg [dot] com and I’ll give you as much assistance as I can. Together we can push back against the state’s surveillance apparatus and return the Internet to its original form, a network where those wanting to remain anonymous can do so.