I know that online security doesn’t have anything directly to do with disaster preparedness or survival. However, I believe that prepping should mean taking steps to improve your security in all aspects of life – from preparing yourself for a wide-scale disaster like EMP to personal disasters like home invasions. Because the internet is such a major part of our lives, we shouldn’t overlook online security either.
You Aren’t Paranoid. The Government Really Is Watching Everything You Do Online
Even before the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden, most of us have been aware that the government monitors our online activities (you’d have to be naïve to think they don’t).
But few people realized how widespread the problem is until the Snowden leak.
The NSA and other government agencies can monitor:
- Facebook posts
- Contact lists
- Internet sites you visit
- Phone records
- Online purchases
- Your location via GPS on your phone
When you combine this with the many other ways that the government tracks you – including facial recognition, DNA databases, fingerprint databases, and watch lists – it starts getting pretty scary. If the government every wanted to find you, it could do so very easily.
Your Online Activity Could Get You On a Watch List
Back in 2013, a couple of cars carrying 6 casually dressed men drove up to Michele Catalano’s house. They were counterterrorism officers who came to interrogate the Catalano family because of their internet browsing history.
Was it the online research they did on pressure cookers which got them on the watch list?
Or maybe it was because her husband was shopping for a backpack.
Or maybe it was because they – like millions of others at the time – were reading the news about the Boston bombing.
Any of these online searches is pretty innocuous on its own. But a combination of online searches or other activity could trigger red flags and get you put on a government watch list.
The Catalano’s knew it had happened because they got a visit from counterterrorism. But how many people are on watch lists without even realizing that they are being monitored closely?
But It Isn’t Likely…
While there are plenty of stories like this one about innocent people getting put on watch lists because of “suspicious” online activity, the reality is that you are probably fine and the government isn’t watching everything you do 24/7.
YES, someone is tracking and storing all of that data – but no one is physically watching. The feds have computer programs that do the monitoring for them.
As an article from Intellipedia – which is basically the NSA’s classified version of wiki – talks about, the problem is that they have too much data. There are tens of millions of contact lists alone, nevertheless online searches and messages to go through.
Visiting a prepper or survivalist site isn’t likely to raise any red flags.
Visiting a prepper site AND buying a lot of guns? Maybe.
You Can’t Protect Yourself from Government Spying
While there are a lot of great products for increasing online security and privacy, none of these are going to protect you from government spying.
As Eyder reported, the Snowden leaks show that the government has the ability to crack virtually all internet encryption methods. There are certainly ways to keep the government out, but these are likely well beyond your abilities.
In fact, I worry that using online privacy tools could put you on the government’s radar. Of course, there are a lot of people who use privacy tools and aren’t doing anything suspicious. But simply using these tools could raise some flags and make any other activity you do seem more suspicious.
Again, visiting prepper and survival websites isn’t likely to get you into any long-term trouble of affect you after SHTF.
In forums, I’ve heard some preppers express concern that the government will use these lists after a SHTF event to come steal all of your supplies. Let’s be rational here: If the SHTF event is so bad that the feds don’t have supplies for themselves, then it probably means that the grid is down and they won’t even be able to access their lists anyway!
Do Use Some Common Sense…
Visiting prepper sites is fine. Visiting sites that teach you how to make a grenade? Not fine! That sort of activity will trigger some serious red flags.
Honestly, I am a little torn on this issue. While I value privacy, I also like that law enforcement is able to stop terrorist attacks. Just take a look at the list of Thwarted Terrorist Attacks in the USA since 9/11 or the 50 Deadly Terrorist Attacks Stopped in the UK and you start to see some value in all the online monitoring… But I don’t want this to turn into a political discussion about what is right/wrong.
Rather, I want to encourage you to use some common sense online to avoid getting on a watch list.
- Don’t buy guns online
- Don’t buy things that are obvious red flags, such as the Anarchist’s Cookbook
- Don’t search for things like how to make explosives
You CAN Protect Yourself from Hackers
Remember how I said before the prepping should be about preparing for major disasters as well as smaller personal disasters? Well, one of those personal disasters is getting hacked.
According to the Insurance Information Institution Report on Identity Theft and Cyber Crime, 13.1 million Americans had their identities stolen in 2015 and lost $15 billion. Many of these thefts were from “old” methods like finding documents while dumpster diving, but there’s been a huge increase in identify theft through online hacking.
As for online crime, there were 269,422 complaints in 2014 adding up to losses of over $800 million.
In short, you need to be worried about hacking! Increase your online security!
When I started Primal Survivor, I learned a lot about online security. I consulted with experts and have an insanely good tech guy (you can rest assured that your emails and info are safe with us!!!). A lot of the online security methods that I use are probably beyond your skill level (they were beyond my skill level too before I got a pro to handle it). However, you’d be surprised at how much can you boost your online security with a few steps.
Here’s some tips for improving your online security:
- Passwords: This should be obvious, but a lot of people use really simple passwords and don’t ever change them. Worse, a lot of people use the same passwords for all of their sites. Go update your passwords and use a lot of special characters in them (!@#$%*&)
- Use Two-Factor Authentication: Lots of websites, including Facebook and Google, require you to verify yourself in another way when accessing the site via another computer or IP address.
- Unlink Services You Don’t Use: If you’ve downloaded an app or program which requires a password but you don’t use it anymore, delete it!
- Learn to Identify Phishing Scams: Here’s a good article from Tech Republic on how to do that.
- Consider a Service for Anonymous Browsing: I’m torn on this because using these programs might actually raise red flags with the feds and put you on a watch list. However, they are also valuable if you want to avoid targeted advertising and maintain a higher level of privacy (though the feds can definitely crack them if they really want to). One option is TOR (https://www.torproject.org/).
- Chat Anonymously: If you chat online, then consider using a tool like Crytocat (https://crypto.cat/) to make you anonymous.
- Upgrade Your Router Security: It is ridiculously easy to hack into a router and then see everything that you are doing online – including passwords. To prevent this, upgrade your router settings. At the very least, don’t use a the default password or name. Even better, upgrade firmware using Tomato.
You can find an excellent list of privacy tools here.
Are you worried about online security when you visit prepping sites? Let us know your thoughts on the issue!
Some more resources for this article are: