The National Security Agency’s mass surveillance has greatly expanded in the years since September 11, 2001 and our leaders and institutions are no longer being held accountable to the promises of democracy. Ever since the whistleblower Edward Snowden copied and leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA), proponents of government surveillance argue that security is more important than privacy, so government surveillance programs were put in place to infiltrate most of the communications technologies, thus enabling the government to try to stop terrorism before it happens. Our government has regularly tracked the calls of hundreds of millions of Americans, and it continues to spy on a vast but unknown number of Americans’ international calls, text messages, web-browsing activities, and emails. The opponents of government surveillance claim that bulk data collection infringes upon individual rights.
The Darknet exists, which are portions of the internet that are not easily accessible by the public at large, without dedicated expertise. The dark web constitutes a subset of what’s called the “deep web” and it is useful for anything that requires greater privacy. This area of the Internet consists of anything that Google and other search engines have not previously indexed. Content on the deep web, which is estimated to comprise as much as 99% of the Internet, is therefore not accessible via these familiar “surface web” search engines. The deep web refers to non-indexed pages, while the dark web refers to pages which are both non-indexed and involved illegal activities. The dark web is the part of the deep web that is intentionally hidden for the sake of privacy, but it’s not very large and is probably only about 5% of the total internet.
Data leaks aren’t the only type of malicious activity in which nefarious individuals seek to engage on the dark web. Malware authors can leverage the privacy afforded by the dark web to offer various types of attack tools that they sell. Cybercriminals offer phishing kits, ransomware, remote access trojans, exploits, botnets and other emerging threats. Many terrorists and extremists use the Darknet to mask their communication and propaganda efforts, recruit and radicalize, and gain material benefits in the form of illicit goods, such as weapons and fraudulent documents. They also use the dark web for drugs, child pornography, counterfeit goods and/or sex trafficking.
Malware is a catch-all term for any type of malicious software designed to harm or exploit any programmable device, service or network. Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information or data, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details, by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Ransomware is a type of malware from cryptovirology that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid. A Remote Access Trojan (RAT), is a form of malware which allows a hacker to control your device remotely. Exploits are programs or code that are designed to leverage a software weakness and cause unintended effects. A botnet is a number of Internet-connected devices, each of which is running one or more bots. Botnets can be used to perform Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks, steal data, send spam, and allow the attacker to access the device and its connection.
There needs to be a balance between reducing opportunities for terrorists to exploit people connected to the internet, and a way to protect the communication and privacy of ordinary citizens. I get ransomware emails from what I guess are Russian hackers, telling me that they have all of my passwords and that unless I send them money in bitcoins, they are going to destroy my life. I also get a lot of what I figure are phishing scams, from people claiming that my last Netflix payment was not received. I always ignore all of these emails and consider them to be spam. Any technological innovation can be exploited for sinister purposes, and these lazy bastards that don’t want to get a real job will keep trying to extort everyone, as that is their nature.
A firewall acts as a gatekeeper, monitoring attempts to gain access to your operating system and blocking unwanted traffic or unrecognized sources. Firewalls provide protection against outside cyber attackers by shielding your computer or network from malicious or unnecessary network traffic. Firewalls can also prevent malicious software from accessing a computer or network via the internet. I have a software firewall from iSoft Repair, which I feel helps to protect my network by filtering traffic and blocking outsiders from gaining unauthorized access to the private data on my computer, but firewalls can also be hardware devices. I bought a three-year plan and it makes me feel comfortable, but I also have a McAfee LiveSafe 36-month subscription. McAfee LiveSafe antivirus protection defends against viruses, online threats, and ransomware with online and offline protection. I also have Malwarebytes, an anti-malware software that finds and removes malware. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Today Fandango asks, “Which is more important to you, privacy or security? How much privacy are you willing to give up for security?” Those damn Russian hackers got me a while back and I got hit with a Trojan ransom virus. I guess I was doing research and somehow accidently ended up on a porn site, at least that is the story that I am going with. All of my MS Office files and all of my pictures were infected with a malicious encryption making them useless to me. I got a message on my screen that asked me to pay a nominal amount, if I remember correctly it was about $300 in Bitcoins in order for them to restore my infected files. Those f-in bastards even had the nerve to send me another message stating that I only had two hours left before they would raise the ransom. I never paid them and all of my files were lost forever, as I had nothing backed up. This type of stuff has made security my prime concern, but I do feel that my privacy is being invaded.
I have a paid WordPress site and it is free of advertisements, but many of the bloggers that I follow have free sites containing these irritating commercials. If I buy something on Amazon, then everywhere I go, these annoying adds seem to follow me around. They sniff me out and track me down and I know this isn’t spyware, and it’s probably not malicious, but it is a little creepy, and I have nothing to blame other than marketing. Whenever I visit a shopping site, they place a cookie on my computer and I feel like cookies should be made for eating, not for tracking my shopping habits, but this is a basic part of how the Internet works. I feel that there should be some type of alert, before anyone can store a cookie on my computer, because my privacy is important to me. To answer Fandango, I like security, and I guess I can deal with cookies, but I just wish that all the hackers would drop dead, as they serve no useful purpose.
Written for Fandango’s Provocative Question #95.