Free Software for the Security Conscious

Like many people, I suspect, I’ve been thinking about the lack of privacy in my comings and goings on the internet and wondering what, if any, steps I should take to prevent or impede the collection of data about me and my acts. Thanks to a tip from David Collier-Brown, a frequent commenter on Slaw, I’m exploring a site called PRISM Break that lists and gives a brief explanation of nearly eighty free alternatives to the more popular “proprietary” applications and operating systems. By and large the thought here is that these popular systems and software are likely to be targets of government attempts to gain access to data and certainly are typically themselves collectors of data for their own commercial interests.

If nothing else comes of it for me, it’s at least got me using Startpage as an alternative to Google for my searches. You’ll likely know that your searches on Google for “this and that” can, for example, increase your spam email about “this and that,” so I’ll be spared at least one intrusion. Startpage, based in Netherlands, uses Google’s databases but does so after anonymizing your query. (Though not mentioned on PRISM Break, Startpage has a “big sister” — or perhaps an antecedent — called Ixquick that does the same job of privacy protection but runs your search against multiple search engine databases.)

Of course, for those among us who are hyper-anxious about security, even finding and using the right software isn’t going to provide one-hundred percent certain protection against eavesdropping. For one thing, everything leaks. Your mobile phone, for instance, sends out and receives constant signals and even when turned off — perhaps even when the batteries are removed — off may not be completely . . . off, according to a story in today’s New York Times. According to that same story, one very effective way to block any radio or other electrical signals from escaping or entering a mobile phone is to pop it into a fully metal cocktail shaker, which acts as a Faraday cage, isolating the device from electromagnetic waves. Seems James Bond was wrong in a sense; stirred won’t do; must be shaken.


  1. David Collier-Brown

    Originally for reporters, this short article on security in the age of the panopticin was passed on the the community by groklaw.

  2. The Freedom of the Press Foundation has free software/encryption tools. Ed Snowden joined the Brd. of Directors last week, (joining founders Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras …). “The Tor Project” is one of the encryption tools available from the following page, (designed by?) Jacob Appelbaum, friend of Julian Assange. They have a blog page, etc.