You must’ve heard about tech giants not taking the protection of their user’s data seriously at all, yet again. And various news articles are already doing the rounds of my news feeds, yet again.
On 21 December 2018, The Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order authorizing 10 Central agencies to intercept, monitor, and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer.”
If this does not make you uncomfortable, I don’t know what will. They can now access all of the information stored on your devices, legally.
This guide is meant to be a list of tools and services you must use to protect yourself from snooping. These tools are trusted and are used by many people. Most of these are used by me and they are completely safe to use.
A Browser should only display content that the user wants to see. Unfortunately, this is not the case nowadays, you’ll be bombarded with ridiculous animations, popups, and ads that serve no purpose at all and are really annoying.
1.1 uBlock Origin
This is an ad blocker add-on/extension available for Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Firefox. It is a no-nonsense ad blocker with no acceptable ads list like other adblockers, plus it is lean and more memory-efficient, you can also block custom elements on web pages. It is fast and uses less CPU and memory usage.
1.2 uBlock Origin Extra
A companion extension to uBlock Origin: to gain the ability to foil early hostile anti-user mechanisms working around content blockers. It works on some websites that are well-known to use anti-adblock tactics.
1.3 Anti-Adblock Blockers
It is required when websites try to force users to disable their adblocking. Without which they won’t be allowed to see the content on the site. If you want to see a live example - Enable your adblocker and go to Forbes.com or Sanfoundry.com.
1.3.1 Nano Defender
Another extension that I’ve been using for the past few years. With it, you’ll never have to disable your adblocker again.
1.3.2 Anti-Adblock Killer
It is the oldest one in existence but it is not recommended as it is quite outdated now. If you’re familiar with installing scripts for your browser, which I’m going to be talking about soon, then you can install this one.
Tampermonkey is for Google Chrome and Greasemonkey is for Mozilla Firefox. They are user-scripts manager that enable the user to install scripts. Scripts are code snippets that make on-the-fly changes to web page content after or before the page is loaded in the browser.
This script blocks downloading of unwanted applications while downloading on many websites. Demo: GitHub
This user script helps you to skip countdown ads or continue pages and prevent ad pop-up windows. Official Link: https://adsbypasser.github.io
1.5 Poper Blocker
Available as an extension and blocks popup windows and tabs that are just annoying. Official Link: Poper Blocker
1.6 HTTPS Everywhere
HTTPS Everywhere is an extension created by EFF and the Tor Project which automatically switches thousands of sites from insecure “http” to secure “https”. It will protect you against many forms of surveillance and account hijacking, and some forms of censorship. Official Link: Chrome Web Store
Available only for Firefox and blocks any malicious scripts on web pages. Official Link: NoScript
Google tracks you on more than just their search engine. You may realize they also track you on YouTube, Gmail, Chrome, Android, Gmaps, and all the other services they run. For those, it is recommended to use private alternatives like DuckDuckGo for search.
You can read this awesome answer by DuckDuckGo’s CEO Gabriel Weinberg on Quora.
Go on, try it now: DuckDuckGo - Homepage
3. Proton Mail
Emails are secured automatically with end-to-end encryption and your encrypted emails cannot be shared with third parties. No personal information is required to create your secure email account. They also do not keep any IP logs which can be linked to your anonymous email account. Your privacy comes first with ProtonMail.
Official Link: ProtonMail - Homepage
WhatsApp stores your metadata and shares it with governments (and if it is stored, it can be stolen by paid hackers too). Your metadata shows a record of EVERYONE you have sent a message, voice called, shared videos and pictures with since the activation of your WhatsApp account. It doesn’t say WHAT it is but the other details remain.
How Signal can help: Signal does not store metadata. The FBI demanded Signal to hand over metadata but all they had stored on their servers (and thus had to hand over) was :
when the account was created
the last time the account connected to Signal’s servers.
It is for this reason that Signal is blocked in oppressive countries like China, Egypt and the UAE.
Signal is currently used by human rights activists, law enforcement, spies and those seeking extreme privacy. A lot of ordinary people use it too. But that number is small. It can grow if more common people adopt it.
It is also an alternative for messaging apps and it is free, fast, open, and multi-platform too.
5. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A virtual private network, or VPN, extends across a public or shared network and acts as a tunnel so you can exchange data securely and anonymously across the internet as if you were connected directly to a private network.
Top Free Alternatives
For Mobile Devices - TurboVPN.
Do keep in mind that when using a free VPN service, the product is your data, there is no way you can be safe and private with free VPNs.
Top Paid Alternatives
6. Ultrasurf Proxy
Ultrasurf is a product of Ultrareach Internet Corporation. Originally created to help internet users in China find security and freedom online, Ultrasurf has now become one of the world’s most popular anti-censorship software, with millions of people using it to bypass internet censorship.
Official Link: Ultrasurf
I’ve discussed TOR before. Read here for a complete overview.
8. Ditch Chrome, Switch to Firefox
Recently, Chrome was in the news for all the bad reasons. The chrome developers enabled a feature that still persists, it allows you to log-in into Gmail or any Google product inside the browser and you’ll be logged into Chrome automatically and all of your data will start synchronizing through, most people will definitely forget to log out if they do not know that they logged-in in the first place.
Firefox rolled out their best ever version - Firefox Quantum, it is fast and privacy centered, it is a complete revamp over the old Firefox.
9. Monitor and Control App Permissions
I did a blog post on this a while ago, it offers a complete overview of the scenario regarding apps and permissions on mobile phones. Read it here.
The above tools provide some level of protection from snoopers and websites trying to sneakily download malicious software or an app on your device. As for the India scenario, we must raise our voice against laws that allow the government to access our devices. Monitoring a citizen for no reason is no different than treating him as a criminal, no citizens personal freedom shall be violated by anybody unless he/she is convicted of a criminal activity, and monitoring a citizen’s data stored on his own personal electronic devices is no different than spying/recording his speech in home, office, public constantly.
Further Reading and Recommended Links -
If you want to join the active movement in support of Internet privacy laws -
You can pledge your support here - Save Our Privacy.
For updated info regarding privacy issues in India, become a supporter here - Internet Freedom Foundation