LUCY BURDETTE: Our friend Libby Hellmann always brings interesting blogs to the table to celebrate her new books. This time she's launching JUMP CUT, an Ellie Foreman thriller, much concerned about privacy. I'll let her tell you...
“The typical methods of communication today betray you silently, quietly, invisibly, at every click. At every page that you land on, information is being stolen. It’s being collected, intercepted, analyzed, and stored by governments, foreign and domestic, and by companies.” Edward Snowden
LIBBY HELLMANN: Regardless whether you think Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor, he has ignited a firestorm about the lengths and limits that government and corporations do and should have over our privacy. In fact, the issue of privacy is at the heart of my new thriller, Jump Cut, the first Ellie Foreman thriller in ten years. Ellie finds herself under surveillance… not only her phones are tapped, but her computers are hacked, and her car has a tracker on it.
Remember when we learned the average person was caught on video cameras at least 6 times a day? And how our emails were (and continue to be) hijacked by phishers? And how our identities can be stolen off our computers or smart phones in an instant with the right tools? What Snowden did was take the theft of privacy to a higher level, by showing us how easy it is for organizations to capture even more data and information.
Facebook is fully aware of your password security questions, your personal details are stored by Gmail and plenty of other websites. Your internet service provider knows exactly who you are, where you live, your credit card number, when you made your last payment, and how much you spent. Retailers track your every visit online.
No wonder there's a growing movement of ordinary people protesting government and corporate snooping. It's serious business. And if you’re anything like Ellie, you’d want to know what to do to arm yourself against privacy and security “thieves.”.
Fortunately, Edward Snowden was interviewed in a Moscow hotel last October, and, in addition to a broad commentary on privacy, surveillance and encryption, he also offered a detailed look into opsec (operations security) and how to improve your own personal security and privacy.
Here's what he recommends.
- Use Tor, the private browser. Snowden says it's the “most important privacy-enhancing technology project being used today”, letting you keep your physical location private and look things up without leaving a trace to identify you.
- Encrypt all phone calls and text messages. Use a free smartphone app like Signal, by Open Whisper Systems. When you do this, nobody can read or hear your conversations. It's available for iOS and Android, and it's really easy to use. Although I didn’t name it, this is the system Ellie’s boyfriend downloads to her smart phone in JUMP CUT.
- Encrypt your hard disk. If your machine gets stolen, nobody can see where you live, look at your files or anything else.
- Use a password manager to stop your login details from being exposed. It will let you create a unique password for every site you need to log into. They're unbreakable, and you don't need to remember them. Snowden recommends KeePassX, a free cross-platform manager that never stores information in the cloud.
- Use two-factor authentication so if your password gets stolen the provider can send you a secondary way to authenticate your identity, for example in a text message. When you do this, anyone wanting to hack you has to have your password plus an actual device, like your phone, to complete the transaction.
What if you want to go even further? Snowden recommends using software called SecureDrop – a system for whistleblowers - over the Tor network, so there's no connection with the computer you're using. You could also use an operating system like Tails, which leaves no forensic trace on the computer you're using. Take things even further and you're looking at using disposable machines, which can't be found in a raid so can't be appropriated and analyzed.
As Snowden says (and he would know):
“This is to be sure that whoever has been engaging in this wrongdoing cannot distract from the controversy by pointing to your physical identity. Instead they have to deal with the facts of the controversy rather than the actors that are involved in it.”
He goes on to say, “We need means of engaging in private connections to the internet. We need ways of engaging in private communications. We need mechanisms affording for private associations. And ultimately, we need ways to engage in private payment and shipping, which are the basis of trade. We need to find a way to protect the rights that we ourselves inherited for the next generation.”
Where does it end?
You can keep going to deeper and deeper levels, and I’m sure some people do. Or you could stay sane and concentrate on the six steps Snowden suggests. They will help thwart the most common and realistic threats to your personal security.
How many of you have implemented even one of Snowden’s suggestions? Unfortunately, I haven’t. But Ellie has, so at least she’s protected.
Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Twelve novels and twenty short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few.
With the addition of Jump Cut in 2016, her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and three stand-alone historical thrillers that Libby calls her “Revolution Trilogy.” Last fall The Incidental Spy, a historical novella set during the early years of the Manhattan Project at the U of Chicago was released. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection. In 2005 Libby was the national president of Sisters In Crime, a 3500 member organization dedicated to the advancement of female crime fiction authors.
Read more at http://libbyhellmann.com