by Soumya Tejas
Is convenience becoming our enemy? We have recently heard a lot about how corporations and governments have been abusing our lack of alertness and desire for convenience to store and mine user data. We have also seen cases of the government using corporates, public sector companies, and IT to tap into activists’ messages and calls, and gain illegitimate access to devices to target and suppress them. This much is certain: as activists, unless we start becoming cognizant of these threats, we are going to find ourselves more vulnerable.
How does one become cognizant? What are the required measures? It is a combination of attitude and tools to adopt—not only as an individual but as a community. Instead of walking you through a long, exhaustive list, today I would like to share two small steps you can take right away to improve your security hygiene.
The first has to do with files with sensitive content. Once we have finished using these files, it is essential that we completely destroy it from our local hard disks. Shift+Delete permanently deletes the file from the system for general users. However, the content can still be retrieved by hackers. To avoid this, you may want to use tools that provide secure deletion—like CCleaner. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a paper shredder for sensitive documents in hard copy.
Secondly, I would like to focus on the tools of communication. Using end-to-end encrypted mailing services like ProtonMail, designed by scientists who met at CERN, Switzerland, are much safer than regular Gmail, Hotmail, etc. If someone tries to intercept your emails or reset your password, they will only be able to see who emailed you and when, and not be able to see the contents of the emails as they are encrypted. For instant messaging, use tools like Signal and Elements instead of Instagram and Facebook Messenger (which have no encryption) or even Whatsapp (it uses Signal’s encryption protocol, but your messages can be accessed via your backups to the cloud). You can also configure some of these tools to delete messages after a certain amount of time of sending/receiving them.
It may take an extra hour or two to get used to these tools, but remember how it was to first start using Facebook, or Whatsapp? That took time too! So I encourage you to try these tools as well. Once you overcome the learning curve, the extra security will be well worth it.
Adopting a change of attitude and using more secure tools may not be foolproof solutions, but they certainly make it more difficult for ill-intentioned groups to get access to your communication and systems. Each of us is a part of a much-needed movement—and we must not underestimate the value of buying ourselves more time by making ourselves less vulnerable.