August, 17th 2018
Sometimes friends of mine asked me why I am so interested in subjects and tools related to privacy, data and share. I answered them because they are quite fun themas, and make us be aware of the use of digital tools we have. They also make us looking for new solutions and solve hard challenges so as to reach both a kind of wahoo effect and innovation. But sometimes they asked me which tools they should use so as to protect their data or just secure their devices. When I answered them I forgot some details or cool softwares which could have help them. So here we are, this is a list of tools you can use, share and improve if you are worried about your privacy, your sensitive data or the protection of the use of your daily tools.
You should choose free and open source web browsers who are not maintained by companies looking for profits.
Some of them are dedicated to privacy like Brave, Orfox (from the Guardian Project) or Firefox Focus. Others can possess dedicated extensions like Firefox or are already configured like Tor Browser. But the browser is not enough, you have the right to define another search engine like Qwant or DuckDuckGo! Such engines do not contain trackers and do not use for example your location in order to provide to you the best list of sushis bar for the dinner you have around you. The user experience is a bit degraded, but it is a question of search request after all :)
Use safe browsers is a good idea. but what if the network you use is public or cannot be trusted? What should you do if you are using for example Wi-Fi hotspots?
You can still use TOR: with its onion routing and its shiny hammer, you may have a more secure but a slower connection from your device to the destination server. Be aware in this case the final layer of your onion can betray you, and sometimes computers can be confiscated for legal reasons. You can still use some VPN solutions like ProtonVPN and OpenVPN which make harder the read of your connection payloads. Another fun tool for Android and iOS powered devices is OONI probe: a kind of probe which checks if censorship has been implemented in the network you use. Beware the probe collects evidences of censorship by checking connections to certain websites which can have their content regulated or forbidden (like porn). Measurements data can be collected and available on this web page. DNS configuration can be changed to prevent your web navigation of being blocked: Quad9, Google, OpenDNS, Cloudflare, FDN, FreeDNS... no need to keep the default one!
For example you can find for Firefox several plugins like Kimetrack, Privacy Badger and No Script. They allow you to disable third party scripts which are not useful for you. They give you also a lot of details about the trackers the pages may have.
For some operating systems like GNU/Linux and Android, we can use alternative app stores to get applications and other software. Even if some of them are not verified by the OS owner (e.g. with Google and its Google Play), alternative stores can bring to light free and open source applications respectful to your private life. They possess also applications which do not apply to the rules of the official store owner, rules which can be very boring for developers. But with these alternative stores, it will be your job to trust the app and not to complain the bad behaviors they can have on your device (malwares are spreading a lot within Android ecosystem because of those stores).
Did you know for Android F-Droid and Yalp? No? Time to move and try :)
The first thing to change if you are worried about your privacy is the operating system (OS) you have on your computer, smartphones, tablets or whatever you use. Avoid the use of black-box OS like Windows: if you cannot see what it is doing, do not use it.
For computers, GNU/Linux based OS are numerous: Ubuntu (not a big fan but it’s a start), Debian, ArchLinux (if you have a beard) or Gentoo (if you have an Albus Dumbledore’s white beard and a pointed hat). There are other systems dedicated to privacy and private life protection: Qubes OS, Tails or PureOS for examples. You can replace your smartphones and tablets OS based on Android by LineageOS (a fork of Android) or eelo (a new starting project). You must keep in mind if you are not using the official OS of your device, you may have security fixes and bug patches later than others or never...
And what if I bought a computer with such OS instead of installing it? Have a look on Minifree! They sell laptops with preinstalled GNU/Linux OS and free BIOS certified by the Free Software Foundation. Check their website, you may discover a laptop matching your needs :)
Instant messaging, SMS, voice chats, emails... Who owns the apps you use daily? It might be mainly Google (Gmail, Hangouts), Apple (iMessage), Microsoft (Skype, Outlook) and Facebook (WhatsApp, Messenger), t thus companies who might be interested by your data.
Have a look of enciphered SMS with Silence, and encrypted communications with Signal. Telegram is not so evil, but is concerned by political issues... Did you notice the chat app used by some of Mr Robot’s characters? It’s Wickr. This web site is able to help you to choose the most suitable app for you. “And what about my emails” do you think? Have a look on ProtonMail.
Look deeper in the tools you use daily on your computer or your smartphone: you may see things you can replace by free or open source or privacy-respectful versions.
Have a look on softwares made by Cozy Cloud and Framasoft. Need to store your passwords or looking for an efficient software which can build for your very strong credentials? Why no... Keepass! Your device contains pictures of your kids, contact of your lover, or your personal tasks and thoughts of the day. Did you think to protect them with encryption? Plenty of operating systems provide such tools in their settings, move on! You can also have a look on VeraCrypt. If you want to hide information with pictures or sounds, thus use steganography and go to DeepSound and SilentEye websites. Yep, Mr Robot again :)
OK this part is far less feasible because of the laws of countries and all the bullshit you can see in not specialized press. Nevertheless if I want to talk about privacy, I cannot miss to introduce cryptocurrencies.
When you buy something on the Internet or withdraw money using fiat currencies (e.g. USD, EURO, YEN, ...) you leave traces for your bank and it can be very useful if your payment card has been stolen or pirated: block the card, cancel transactions, alert you in case of strange moves. We can read several things about cryptocurrencies: they are gorgeous, they can make you earn a lot of money and perfectly anonymous. Please stop now. This is not true at all, but some cryptocurrencies like Zcash and Monero are anonymous (a bright article here): if you make a transaction, no one can find the sender (you) and the receiver. For these two, the side effect is transactions cannot be removed, because they are stored in a blockchain, but that’s another story.
Did I say the previous parts were tricky? This one is harder. If you want to protect your privacy, data and your private life when you use softwares, you have to put your trust on them. But how to be sure the softwares, devices and network connections you use are safe? Keep in mind they can be spied, or contain flaws from where data can be stolen, or worse with backdoors and remote control system.
Hopefully there are some of tools you can use if you are skilled enough so as to check whether an app or a connection is clean or not. Have a look of the the Kali OS and the Metasploit framework, they are great tools to tests applications, OS, networks… If you are able to break your target or exploit it, it means other people can do so. Feel free to test but respect the law about that 8-)
Honestly I did not find all these tools on my own. I discussed with friends and colleagues, and read organizations blogs. Thus if you want to protect your дss and keep your things safe, you should check the news of some serious and harsh groups, they can warn people if big problems occur.
I place here unordered groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Guardian Project, La Quadrature du Net, the TOR Project, the Open Observatory of Network Interference, Exodus Privacy, the Ministry of Freedom, the Free Software Foundation and April.
Privacy, data, private life, web uses… we must be worried about them. We should ask to ourselves questions: what if my device is stolen? What if we have a massive data theft? What if we learn companies are spying us? How can we protect our devices as strongly as possible?
We have a lot of tools, applications, operating systems and devices. I just wrote here a small sample of them. Some of them may be Single Points of Failure so do not put all of your sensitive data in one medium. Free and open source worlds are far more convinced about privacy and private life than bg companies. Security and privacy protection make us create new solutions and help innovation. Hacktivism can bring to the light the bad behaviors of companies. People need to protect and defend their data and their private life, because damages can be massive in case of censorship, flaws or bugs. If your are not convinced, I advise you to read some great books: you might have another point of view after that: 1984 of George Orwell and 2084 written by Boualem Sansal.