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How to Use Edward Snowden’s Three Tips for Digital Privacy

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden says he has been able to outfox U.S. officials using encryption. During a webcast on NSA leaks and data security at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, Snowden shared some privacy tips for the rest of us: Encrypt your hard drive, use plug-ins for your browser that prevent organizations or companies from tracking you online, and cover your tracks with Tor, an online network that promises anonymity.
These tips range from simple to complicated depending on your computer savvy, so we’ve collected some basic info and guides to help you get started:
Encrypt your hard drive
Encryption is the “Defense Against the Dark Arts” for the digital world, said Snowden, referencing the class Harry Potter took during his Hogwarts years.
Adding password protection to files on your computer is just the first step to personal file security. Encrypting the entire hard disk on your computer ensures personal information is secure, even if your device is stolen or seized.
Newer versions of Windows and Mac operating systems come with built-in disk encryption tools. BitLocker, which encrypts your entire hard drive, comes as part of Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise versions, and Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise editionsAppleoffer detailed tutorials online on how disk encryption services can be turned on. For those with older operating systems, TrueCrypt, there’s a free program for encrypting your drive. Here’s a guide on how to download and install it.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that works on digital rights issues, has a guide to how encryption can help in different situations.
Use browser plug-ins to avoid being tracked onlineThe Wall Street Journal’s series ‘What They Know‘ showed companies are using digital tracking for online activities such as shopping, varying prices based on shopping patterns and location information. While that may seem harmless, it’s important to know that if retailers can see you, it’s likely that others can as well.
Slowly, companies such as Google have agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers. Google’s Chrome browser has a setting that most users can turn on to send a do-not-track request, and so does Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 10. They won’t work with all websites, but it’s a good place to begin.
Plug-ins or small software extensions available for browsers are another way to go about it. Ghostery, a plug-in available for most popular browsers, when installed will show the number of trackers detected but not automatically block them. Users have the choice to individually or in bulk block these trackers.
You can also choose sites, such as the search engine DuckDuckGo, which do not record or share your searches.
Cover your tracks with Tor Over the last few months, Tor, a network that promises anonymity and privacy online has come under the spotlight. Tor hosts a network of websites, some of which have been under the scanner of law enforcement officials for illegal activities. Late last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation shut down Silk Road, a marketplace available only through the Tor network, for the sale of illegal drugs.
Tor may be useful for criminals, but its cloak of anonymity is increasingly a comfort to anyone looking for privacy. Tor offers its own browser that can be used to connect to news sites or instant messaging services and chat rooms that can’t be easily tracked online.
To get started on the Tor network, take the advice of the ExtremeTech blog, and download the Tor Browser Bundle available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s similar to using the Firefox or Chrome browser but slower, because Internet traffic is routed through a series of proxies to mask its origin.
Other ways to lower your online profile include using encrypted chat services such as SilentCircle, and encrypted mail such as Hushmail. There are even smartphones coming out soon that will offer a suite of privacy features baked right in.

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