The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

June 14, 2013

Ideas for keeping your data safe from spying

— LONDON (AP) — Phone call logs, credit card records, emails, Skype chats, Facebook message, and more: The precise nature of the NSA's sweeping surveillance apparatus has yet to be confirmed.

But given the revelations spilling out into the media recently, there hardly seems a single aspect of daily life that isn't somehow subject to spying or surveillance by someone.

Experts say there are steps anyone can take to improve privacy, but they only go so far.

Using anonymity services and encryption "simply make it harder, but not impossible," said Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy and security researcher. "Someone can always find you __ just depends on how motivated they are."

With that caveat, here are some basic tips to enhance your privacy:

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ENCRYPT YOUR EMAILS

Emails sent across the Web are like postcards. In some cases, they're readable by anyone standing between you and its recipient. That can include your webmail company, your Internet service provider and whoever is tapped into the fiber optic cable passing your message around the globe — not to mention a parallel set of observers on the recipient's side of the world.

Experts recommend encryption, which scrambles messages in transit, so they're unreadable to anyone trying to intercept them. Techniques vary, but a popular one is called PGP, short for "Pretty Good Privacy." PGP is effective enough that the U.S. government tried to block its export in the mid-1990s, arguing that it was so powerful it should be classed as a weapon.

Disadvantages: Encryption can be clunky. And to work, both parties have to be using it.

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USE TOR

Like emails, your travels around the Internet can easily be tracked by anyone standing between you and the site you're trying to reach. TOR, short for "The Onion Router," helps make your traffic anonymous by bouncing it through a network of routers before spitting it back out on the other side. Each trip through a router provides another layer of protection, thus the onion reference.

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