November was a ‘yuge’ month for online privacy news. We’ve seen some major disclosures, a shocking new Internet surveillance law and president-elect Donald Trump, who isn’t likely to be good news for online privacy.
In an effort to share more of these with our community, here are TunnelBear’s top picks for recent online privacy stories you should know about.
1. Britain passes sweeping online surveillance law
The country that gave us George Orwell has just passed an online surveillance law that would fit right in any dystopian sci-fi novel.
Despite warnings it would further erode privacy and empower Britain’s government to spy on citizens, the so-called Snooper’s Charter was passed by Parliament and will become law.
The far-reaching law requires Internet and phone companies operating in Britain to keep users’ browsing, call and text history for one year, and gives police power to force communication providers to remove encryption. And even though the law just passed, the provisions requiring companies to collect communications data are to be in place by year’s end.
But Brits aren’t taking this sitting down. An official petition to Parliament has already passed the 100,000 signatures needed to force a new debate.
For British readers, it’s important to note that using a foreign VPN like TunnelBear and tunnelling to an outside country should protect your Internet browsing from state snoopers.
2. Donald Trump’s election sparks concerns about privacy erosion
It was an election that stunned the world, sending Donald Trump to the White House. Though he hasn’t taken office yet, the incoming Trump presidency has already generated some serious concern among privacy advocates.
Aside from fears he will dramatically expand government surveillance practiced by intrusive spy agencies like the NSA, it is expected Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress will target encryption with legislation mandating so-called backdoors into encrypted communications services and devices like iPhones.
But as has been pointed out many times before, requiring such backdoors for law enforcement would weaken -- not strengthen -- security, as criminals and state hackers would also take advantage of the government-imposed weakness for their own gain.
To put it in Trump’s words, that’s a really bad deal.
3. Cheap Android phones caught with backdoor to China
Security researchers discovered that some low-priced Android phones were secretly sending users’ locations, contacts and text messages to servers in China.
It’s not clear whether the phones, including those sold in the U.S. under the BLU brand name, were operating for the Chinese government or were instead using the information for commercial purposes, but the news is still disturbing.
4. Report finds majority of Internet users under government censorship
A new report from a pro-democracy group has found that two-thirds of Internet users around the globe live under government censorship of the web.
The online-freedom ranking has China, Syria and Iran as the worst countries, while 24 of the 65 countries surveyed restricted or blocked access to websites and social media this year. That’s up from 2015, driven in part by crackdowns in places like Turkey and Brazil.
5. $5 tool can steal your computer’s privacy in 30 seconds
A new tool will take only seconds to install privacy-stealing exploits on unattended computers, even if they’re protected by a password.
The software, called PoisonTap, works on a $5 Raspberry Pi microcomputer and infiltrates systems through a USB port. Once plugged in, it sucks up any unencrypted web traffic (such as online account information) and sends it to an outside server. The device also installs a backdoor giving the device control over your web browser and local network.
This device works on both PCs and Macs, so be careful not to leave your system idle in public places. It can be stopped by turning your computer off, or of course, carrying it with you.
This is the start of a regular series where TunnelBear will share our picks for the most important online privacy news each month, keeping you informed about the always changing world of online privacy.
Sign up below to have them delivered to your inbox & see you next month!