“Big Brother is watching you”George Orwell-1984
Several privacy tools exist to safeguard your online activities. However, is it possible to elude all entities, including governments?
Although your measures are potent shields against recognized privacy intrusions, absolute immunity from government surveillance cannot be assured. Our conversation is bound by the current understanding of surveillance techniques.
Initially, we’ll examine the visibility of your online behavior to external parties without protective measures. Subsequently, we’ll explore the scenarios you’ve mentioned.
If you neglect to implement any security measures…
If you forgo a VPN for encryption and utilize common services for email, browsing, and entertainment, numerous entities could potentially observe your online behavior:
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): ISPs have visibility into your online activities, such as the domains you access, duration of website visits, applications used, and your digital patterns. They can throttle your connection for bandwidth-intensive tasks like streaming. Unencrypted DNS and TLS Server Name Indication (SNI) allow ISPs to track your site connections. However, HTTPS encryption on most modern websites obscures specific pages you visit and data exchanges.
Wi-Fi Network Operators: Administrators can review router logs to identify visited sites by tracing your IP address and corresponding DNS queries.
Big Tech, Social Media, Browsers, Websites: Entities like Google and Meta track your interactions on their platforms, facilitated by being logged in or through your IP address. Cookies enable cross-internet tracking for targeted advertising. Hackers: Via man-in-the-middle and downgrade attacks, attackers can surveil your online activities, particularly over unprotected public Wi-Fi networks. Governments: Governments may acquire information about your online behavior through requests to ISPs, social media platforms, search engines, and browser companies. Additional tactics include browser fingerprinting and deploying spyware—essentially digital espionage.
Enhanced Privacy VPN Browser
Utilizing ForestVPN in conjunction with privacy-centric DuckDuckGo and/or Brave browser forms a robust defense for online privacy that is accessible to most users.
ForestVPN safeguards your data by encrypting internet traffic and masking your IP address. Both DuckDuckGo and Brave are designed to respect user privacy by eschewing activity tracking and data storage, while also automatically blocking trackers and third-party cookies. Moreover, Brave thwarts browser fingerprinting by presenting randomized fingerprints.
While these protections are active by default, users have the option to disable them. Additionally, Brave offers integrated Tor access. These measures significantly enhance privacy against ISPs, websites, cybercriminals, and other entities. Here’s what various parties may observe:
ISPs can detect encrypted data transfers to a VPN server but cannot discern the subsequent destination or browsing history.
Wi-Fi network administrators can only see encrypted traffic directed to a VPN.
Big Tech companies and websites can track signed-in users’ activities regardless of VPN or privacy browser usage. Without sign-ins, a VPN conceals your IP and location, while privacy browsers prevent cookie tracking, with Brave also obfuscating fingerprints.
Hackers are deterred by VPN encryption from executing attacks like man-in-the-middle. However, VPNs do not shield against social engineering tactics such as phishing.
Governments with VPN and privacy browser usage have minimal visibility into online activities. They may request data from ISPs, who have limited insights and are restricted to connection times.
More invasive measures, such as deploying sophisticated spyware exemplified by the Pegasus case, could be employed by governments. They might also adopt a “store now, decrypt later” approach, banking on future technological advancements to decode encrypted data.
VPN with Tor and Signal Integration
How private are your communications if you enable a VPN, utilize Tor, and transmit messages via Signal?
Employing Tor atop a VPN enhances privacy by bolstering anonymity. While Tor typically functions as a standalone browser, leaving app traffic exposed, it can be configured to secure your entire device.
Nonetheless, relying solely on Signal, without the adjuncts of VPN or Tor, should suffice to shield your messages from prying eyes. Signal’s end-to-end encryption renders them unreadable to all but the correspondent parties. As a staunch advocate for end-to-end encryption, Signal cannot access user messages, ensuring that even if intercepted, they would remain indecipherable for centuries.
Crucially, Signal does not harvest user metadata or track identities and interactions, a stark contrast to services like WhatsApp. Thus, your messages remain impervious to interception, even by entities like the FBI and NSA.
Such agencies would likely target device vulnerabilities or employ deception to infiltrate communications. The security risk could also stem from the recipient’s compromised device or their cooperation with authorities.
Current understanding suggests that not even the most advanced agencies can decrypt end-to-end encryption. Similarly, Tor and dark web usage typically unravel due to human error rather than technical breaches when scrutinized by law enforcement.