If you’ve done any reading of 20th century European history then this story will seem familiar. Back then there were places where you had to be careful about what you said to whom. It could really be anything you said to any number of people including close friends, family members, and business associates. Conversations, even out of context comments, could be used against you for any reason. Trumped up charges or a violation of some old, obscure law could get you detained by the police or worse.
Here in the United States we had our constitution and, more importantly, the Bill of Rights to protect people from an over-reaching government. We didn’t see first-hand what many Europeans did. We felt protected based on a few words written down on paper. We became complacent.
An article was shared with me earlier today. The Guardian retells the story of police coming to someone’s home and interrogating the resident based on their Google searches and what they have viewed on the Internet.
Some might say “but after <fill in the event here> we have to do something so it won’t happen again”. Sure, there are things that need to happen to help prevent such future activities but “doing something” isn’t a real solution.
Fear drives power and if there is power up for grabs then the scariest thing wins. Detonate a bomb and you get fear. Unfortunately talking about detonating a bomb usually generates more fear. Many people will give up nearly everything just to have someone tell them that they are safe. Right now privacy is what’s taking most of the hits and it’s easy to understand why. It’s easy to control people, make a lot of money, and generally be able to “terrorize” anyone you don’t like when you have the keys to their thoughts. Having access to people’s thoughts is even easier today than it was fifty years ago. Today people talk via email, IM, and other digital means that generally go through a few centralized servers. Get to the servers and you’ve got access to the thoughts and feelings of millions of people. You now have leverage over almost anyone you wish.
Unless we want history to repeat itself we need to stand up to these types of actions. It is not okay to go sifting through my Internet searches. It is not okay to read my email. It is not okay to come to my home and interrogate me and my family. It’s time for this to stop.
Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’ by The Chronicle Review
Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere by Kieran Healy
We Should All Have Something To Hide by Moxie Marlinspike
Someone recently asked what my GPG.conf file looks like since he hadn’t updated his in… years. Okay, let’s take a look and I’ll try to explain what each setting is and why I feel it is important. I’m not guaranteeing this as being complete and I welcome input from others.
This says that if a program needs a public key but it’s not in my keyring that it should automatically reach out to the keyserver (see below) and download it.
This says to use the GPG agent. I cannot remember, right now, why this was a good idea. Perhaps it isn’t?
auto-key-locate cert pka ldap hkps://hkps.pool.sks-keyservers.net keyserver hkps://hkps.pool.sks-keyservers.net keyserver-options ca-cert-file=/etc/ssl/certs/sks-keyservers.netCA.pem keyserver-options no-honor-keyserver-url keyserver-options auto-key-retrieve
Almost the fun stuff there. This is just setting up the keyserver that I wish to use (note the use of hkps instead of hkp).
default-preference-list AES AES192 AES256 TWOFISH SHA1 SHA224 SHA256 SHA384 SHA512 Uncompressed ZIP ZLIB BZIP2 personal-cipher-preferences AES256 TWOFISH AES192 AES personal-digest-preferences SHA512 SHA384 SHA256 SHA224 personal-compress-preferences BZIP2 ZLIB ZIP
Okay, the fun stuff. These are all the algorithms that I wish to use. If you setup your GPG key to advertise these then it will make it easier for others to use the most secure algorithms since they will already know what you can do. The first line just lists all the preferences. The second, third, and fourth lines actually provide the preferences in order of them being used. If you’ll note my preferred cipher is AES with a 256-bit key and my preferred hash (digest) is SHA with a 512-bit key. There are other options available and a quick
should provide what options are available to you. For instance, my current installation says that its supported algorithms are:
Pubkey: RSA, RSA-E, RSA-S, ELG-E, DSA
Cipher: IDEA, 3DES, CAST5, BLOWFISH, AES, AES192, AES256, TWOFISH,
CAMELLIA128, CAMELLIA192, CAMELLIA256
Hash: MD5, SHA1, RIPEMD160, SHA256, SHA384, SHA512, SHA224
Compression: Uncompressed, ZIP, ZLIB, BZIP2
I’ve omitted 3DES, MD5, and SHA1 from my preferences due to their weaknesses but I could still use them according to my GnuPG software.
Again, this wasn’t meant to be a strict “thou must do this to be secure” but rather a “this is what I’m doing” sort of thing. I’d appreciate feedback!
I was recently introduced to a privacy issue when refreshing your OpenPGP keys using GnuPG. When refreshing your public key ring using a public key server GnuPG will generally use the OpenPGP HTTP Key Protocol (HKP) to synchronize keys. The problem is that when you do refresh your keys using HKP everyone that you maintain in your public key ring is sent across the Internet unencrypted. This can allow anyone monitoring your network traffic to receive a complete list of contacts in which you may hope to use OpenPGP.
The fix is quite simple: in your gpg.conf file make sure that your keyserver entries include hkps:// instead of hkp://. This will force GnuPG to wrap HKP in SSL to keep the key exchange private.
Many websites have both the traditional, unencrypted HTTP and the SSL or TLS-encrypted HTTPS addresses available to access their content. Wikipedia is one good example of this functionality. You can easily view Wikipedia using traditional HTTP protocol but if you wanted or needed a little more privacy the HTTPS address is available as well. Unfortunately it is sometimes hard to know if a website has the encrypted feature or not unless you try. And you might be in a hurry and forget to use the HTTPS version and then you’ve potentially sent sensitive information about yourself out onto the Internet unexpectedly.
There is an easier way, however, to use HTTPS whenever possible. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has released a plug-in for Firefox and Chrome that knows of almost all of the commonly used websites that are available over HTTPS and will dynamically redirect your web browser to use that encrypted channel without you having to remember. The plug-in, known as HTTPS Everywhere, will convert any web address from HTTP to HTTPS whenever it knows that HTTPS is available.
Why is it important to encrypt your traffic whenever possible? Well, simply you never know who might be listening to your connection. If you are living in a country dominated by an oppressive government then your liberty or even your life might dictate that you need to obtain your information via encrypted means. Other people might be more concerned with their private browsing getting into the hands of a corporation to be sold to the highest bidder to get more information on you into their files. Others are just concerned with their privacy in general. Whatever the reason it’s a good idea to use encryption whenever possible.
It should be noted that HTTPS Everywhere doesn’t automatically encrypt all websites and users should still verify that the lock is showing in the browser address bar and that the certificate matches the site in which they are visiting. That said, using encryption makes your Internet browsing safer and this tool makes it easier.