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Edward Snowden at SXSW 2014

Edward Snowden at SXSW: 3 Essential Security Tips For Every User

Edward Snowden is one of the most wanted men in America. The NSA-tapping whistle-blower fled to Russia for fear of arrest but risked exposing his location to speak to the crowd at South by Southwest.

Snowden appeared live via Google Hangouts — through seven proxies, no less — to discuss the future of cybersecurity alongside privacy advocates and security gurus Ben Wizner and Christopher Soghoian of the ACLU. His revelations about the American government agency's mass surveillance tactics shocked the world in June 2013 and exposed the security weaknesses of Google, Apple, Facebook, and many of the other services cybercitizens use every day.

During the conversation at SXSW, Edward shared his advice on protecting your information from surveillance, which we lay out in nonhacker lingo below.

Snowden's Security Tips

  • Full disk encryption — This protects your hardware, meaning your physical computer. TrueCrypt is a good free option. It is open-source encryption for Macs, Windows 7/Vista/XP, and Linux.
  • Network encryption — Browser plug-ins and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) will suffice. Block Prism for Chrome secures Facebook messaging. NoScript for Firefox, ScriptSafe for Chrome, and Disconnect for Safari are viable plug-ins.
  • TorTor is a more dramatic step you can take to stay secure. It's a network of virtual tunnels (a mix routing network) that sends your ISP to a cloud through a network of routers, making it impossible for your telecommunications provider to spy on you by default. Learn more at TorProject.org.

Snowden at SXSW: The Best Quotes

During the virtual conversation, all speakers had great insights on what security should look like in our future. The main takeaway was that developers need to think about turning on security right at the get-go and turn on security features by default for all web services.

Snowden said that companies could still collect the data necessary to perform an operation — but that these services need to relinquish and destroy this information once it's no longer needed. All speakers also called for simpler, easier-to-use security tools, which are typically made "by geeks, for geeks," according to researcher Soghoian, and are oftentimes overly complicated.

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