Criminal Hackers and the Government.

The information leak by Edward Snowden, Julian Assange of Wikileaks, and other sources has caught the attention of citizens around the world and provided them with proof that the United States government is snooping not only on foreign nationals, but its own people. In addition to the leaks, constant data breaches in commercial companies caused by private hacking groups are all over the news as well. The media has begun to report more on how exposed the average person’s data really is, but are not clear on the who and the how.

Surveillance is one of the most widely used methods by all adversaries of privacy, anonymity and security. The word “surveillance” means continuous observation, which is synonymous to intelligence gathering if it is in the context of tactics. Intelligence gathering is one method used to identify potential targets. The word “target” differs in context by the type of adversary. There are two types of adversaries in the field: computer hackers and the government.

“The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything.” — Edward Snowden

Hackers utilize surveillance to pick out targets that they could exploit. Such exploitations range from petty thievery, to provocations, to attacks that send messages to their own enemies. Once you become the target of a hacker your security will be broken, and then your privacy and anonymity will follow suit. You shouldn’t despair though, because it is actually quite easy to protect yourself from hackers. Hackers range of surveillance start from vicinity of local coffee shop to a global scale. However, because a lot of hacker groups have limited resources and “staff”, they can only process a limited amount of information under their scope.

When dealing with a hacker, your goal is to avoid becoming a target by escaping and avoiding their surveillance. Their methods can usually be detected fairly easily. All you usually need to do, is use software to secure your information, and use common sense to keep your privacy. Always remember that if a hacker wants to infringe your privacy, security and perhaps your anonymity, they have to work for it. Not only do they need to work to get the information from you, but also to utilize the stolen information to their own advantage by extracting from third party companies like Microsoft. The hardest job a hacker has, is actually just to avoid getting caught by our next adversary, the government.

Government workers are institutionally trained, funded extremely well, and have the ability to deploy very sophisticated technology (whether it is built by them, or by a third party). They have the ability to do everything the hackers can, and they can do much more without the constant fear of getting caught. The government does not have to work tirelessly like hackers do in order to steal your information (whether personal or public), because they have back-door access to technologies that are deployed and sold commercially by companies like the aforementioned Microsoft. In any given time, with just a few minutes of effort, the government can have access to all of your data stored in multiple Microsoft services — including Outlook.com, Skype and SkyDrive — for any reason they deem necessary. Although being targeted by the government will not affect your bank accounts, it will affect one of your rights, the right to privacy. Today’s age of Internet of Things allow the government to create a story around you out of any piece of information that is associated with you and connect it to any other data that have been collected in the past or will be in the future. This method of brute force mass surveillance, utilizing government owned technology, as well as controlling hardware and software owned by private citizens (you or anyone around you) on-demand, allows anyone to become a topic of interest because of the associated data around them. Whether being targeted by a purchase of a particular book or by frequenting a coffee shop that happens to be a favorite of a wanted criminal, the government actively invades the privacy and security of innocent individuals and business in the name of national security.

“Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. …it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life.” — Edward Snowden

It is generally accepted that you should take precautions regarding your physical safety, but you should take the same care to guard yourself from possible trouble from threats other than those you can see. Many of the most dangerous and destitute situations arise from being ignorant of adversaries like the hackers and government workers previously described. It is important to recognize your own vulnerabilities to better protect yourself. Despite the outburst in media coverage on topics concerning the safety of U.S. citizens and the connection between their everyday life and the one they host online, there hasn’t been much authority on the distinction between what it means to be secure, to have privacy, and to be anonymous as well as the adversaries to such basic entitlements. The next step in safeguarding your future, is to understand these terms and how they apply to yourself in connection to adversaries.