Microsoft, a trojan horse?

The latest release of the Snowden files published today by the Guardian, “Revealed: how Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages“, show the extent that Microsoft (and subsidiary Skype) have been collaborating with the NSA. Giving access to encrypted emails, video calls, cloud storage and presumably anything else they wanted. Microsofts defence is that they were legally compelled; completely forgetting the fourth amendment which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I’m not a lawyer but the FISA court warrants authorising the collection of the data did not specify the person being searched or what the probable cause was; therefore unconstitutional. I’m happy to be corrected in the comments section 🙂

Given more civilians are killed in countries participating in Prism by the police than terrorists you might be forgiven for thinking the blanket analysis and perpetual storage of every private communication is a little disproportionate. An explanation is that the data gathered is being used for more than the prevention of terrorist attacks.

A possibility is that the American government has been monitoring global communications as a mass act of industrial espionage, to gain an advantage from both its allies and enemies alike. This is just a theory but if you’re responsible for a business outside of the US are you happy that the IT your using could be being used to share your intellectual property, gauge your negotiating position (as the US/UK have done in trade negotiations), gain the contact details of prospective clients?

Imagine the advantage a politically well connected US bank would have over its German or British counterpart simply because they’re naively using their competitors national office software and email programs (Outlook/Hotmail). Likewise could an Airbus PowerPoint sales pitch be used to Boeings advantage?

It might now be time to seriously consider installing one of the many easy to use Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, or Trisquel all of which can be downloaded for FREE and burnt to a DVD for install. All include a LibreOffice which functions in a very similar way to MS Office 2007 (no ribbons).

Send your iPhone messages via Wickr, and short: MSFT, GOOG, AAPL, YHOO


Prism: there are alternatives

Since the Prism surveillance scandal broke in the Guardian and revealed the extent of government access to internet users data, many including myself have been looking for alternatives. The Prism Break website has listed a huge number of these, which is great but a number of these aren’t particularly user friendly so I’m using this blog to highlight my picks all of which are available free.

Prior to the revelations I had been a committed (Google) Chrome user, it offered faster feeling experience than IE and had the then innovative omnibar which allowed Google searches to be undertaken without visiting the search engines home page. The best alternative to this is Mozilla Firefox; it’s free, open source and customisable and available for Windows, OS X, Linux and Android.

The Omnibar add-on gives you the ability to search straight from the browser address box, as per Chrome. DoNotTrackMe and Adblock Plus are also must adds, which block both annoying ads and hidden java script, which track your movements across the internet.

Mobile Web Browser
Again wanting to ditch Chrome from my iPhone, I tried Opera and Dolphin; both of which are available for iOS and Android. While Opera offered data compression features it seemed to freeze when data coverage was poor. Dolphin on the other hand seems slick and is easily customisable to force searches through the privacy conscious DuckDuckGo (see below).

If you want to get away from the dominant Google, Bing and Yahoo, worth trying are the European StartPage or the US based DuckDuckGo, both of which promise no logging or tracking of searches. Both offer good web search but lack the niche video, news and blog searches of the established players. StartPage, however, does have a reasonable image search.

Cloud Storage
The best alternative to Google Drive, and (Microsoft) Skydrive I’ve found is the 256 bit AES encrypted Spider Oak. The service is hosted in the US but the level of encryption means even their staff don’t have unencrypted access to your data, the downside to this is if you lose/forget your password there’s no way of recovering your back-up. They offer 2gb for free to anyone, or those clicking through this link should get a 1gb referral bonus (3gb).

Open Source Routing Machine finds the fastest car route in seconds, the only quirk for UK users is that postcodes need to be separated correctly unlike Google Maps. A slight downside is that it doesn’t offer walking or cycling directions.

Mobile Messaging
The Wickr app for iOS offers free encrypted messaging that self erase within a predefined time, which can be set up to 5 days. It’s unbelievably easy to use and Mashable reports it has been approved by IT security consultant Dan Kaminsky but the developers reluctance to release the source code has left some doubtful of its claims. My take on it is, can it be any worse than iMessage which is archived and probably accessible by the NSA. An Android version is promised in future.

It would be foolish to believe you could ever fully escape a security services or police investigation, but this software should stop or limit the wholesale archiving of our digital lives, help us regain our privacy, and send a message to the established players that their are consequences of breaching our trust.

Please feel free to comment below and follow on twitter: @madeupnamethree