Category - Surveillance

Freedom on the Net Report 2017 reflects a worrying increase in digital censorship

Another year has passed in the realm of digital freedom, leaving the global situation more and more precarious, especially in the context of various elections taking place throughout the world.

According to Freedom House, which surveyed 65 countries for its ‘Freedom on the Net 2017’ report (87% of the world’s Internet users), the state of the Internet freedom around the world has little cause for celebration, as this year continues to present a world where few societies give their citizens access to a free, uncensored Internet.

Thus, nearly half of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net 2017 experienced declines during the coverage period, while just 13 made progress, most of it minor. Less than one-quarter of users reside in countries where the internet is designated free, meaning there are no major obstacles to access, excessive restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights in the form of unchecked surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech.

However, in one of the world’s leading democracies, the United States, the use of “fake news”, automated “bot” accounts, and other manipulation methods gained particular attention and caused a decline in the country’s overall Internet freedom. While the online environment in the US remained generally free, it was troubled by a proliferation of fabricated news articles, as well as aggressive harassment of many journalists, both during and after the presidential election campaign.

 

The usual suspects and some unexpected improvements

Of the 65 countries assessed, 32 have been on an overall decline since June 2016. The biggest declines took place in Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey.

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A new victory for people’s right to privacy: the use of cell site simulators was declared unconstitutional

A new victory in terms of people’s rights to personal privacy has come to pass. Although not directly related to online privacy, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling from yesterday stating that the use of cell site simulators is unconstitutional is certainly good news.

Ok, what are cell site simulators?

Well, they are mass surveillance devices that makes peoples’ cellphones to be tracked in real time. They have been used for many years by state, local, and federal law enforcement in the United States, but apparently, their use was not transparent at all. They are usually fixed in a van and used with a directional antenna, but some of them are quite smaller, easily fitting in a backpack.

The controversy with cell site simulators

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How CyberGhost VPN manages to stay true to its no-log policy

Many privacy-concerned Internet users around the world are worried that companies which should be focusing on supplying digital anonymity solutions are doing quite the opposite.

That is because there are two types of VPNs: the ones that supply their services for a fee, and the VPN services that would like to get a bit extra in addition to that fee or instead of it. Thus, the latter decide to sell their users’ data and that way, they also finance their (free) services.

At CyberGhost we believe this is not the way to go, all we stand for is privacy protection that is our promise to our users and we believe it is our duty to fulfill that promise to all of our customers.

 

How to recognize which VPN service to use

VPNs that appear overnight, have no real contact details or are headquartered in controversial locations around the globe, such as tax havens, which imply no obligations on behalf of the company should make you wonder. Are these firms indeed trustworthy or do they wish to gain profit from your private data?

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The latest data breach in the US leaves 200 million exposed

In one of the world’s oldest modern democracies, the United States, the right to privacy seems to be taken less and less seriously.

Last year, after merely taking on the role of US President, Donald Trump signed an executive order threatening the 6-month-old EU-US Privacy Shield agreement. In March this year, Internet Service Providers got the green light to sell users’ web history. August could see the end of American net neutrality.

Now, the (extremely, we would say) sensitive personal details relating to almost 200 million US citizens have been accidentally exposed by a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee. According to bbc.com, the 1.1 terabytes of data includes birth dates, home addresses, telephone numbers and political views of nearly 62% of the entire US population.

What’s worse, the data was available on a publicly accessible Amazon cloud server. Thus, absolutely anyone with the link could access the data.

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Attention, travelers: countries where VPNs are illegal

[ inspired by article posted on the German version of the CyberGhost blog by Ulrich Brügmann; access the original article here ]

In some countries, topless sunbathing is frowned upon and strictly prohibited. Such a place is Egypt. In other countries, wearing a burqa is not allowed. That kind of place is France. Winter tires are also source for controversy, as using them during summer can lead to certain fines in Italy.

If such things leave room for debate, it comes as no surprise that tools such as VPNs are frowned upon in certain places, especially since they were created to protect our identities online, thus not allowing others to spy on us and maybe to control us easier.

Why are VPNs banned?

The reasons/pretexts for which VPNs are banned vary. The most widespread ones are terrorism, child pornography distribution, spreading malware, committing fraud or other illegal activities. Such a measure may save time and effort when catching certain felons, but it could expose many innocents to various types of cybercrimes.

However, this VPN ban is taken very seriously in the countries which have adopted it. Harsh punishments can be applied to those violating it, including simple tourists.

What forms of punishments are applied?

If you take the following excerpt from the United Arab Emirates’ federal law, you will notice that breaking the VPN ban is in no way regarded lightly:

“Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than Dhs 500,000 [US$136,000] and not exceeding Dhs 2,000,000 [US$544,500] of either of these two penalties.”

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Every move you make – 3 tips to stop your phone from tracking you

It is no mystery that everything we do online leaves traces behind. Our mobiles seem to be the most knowledgeable tool on that matter, since we carry them everywhere with us and they silently keep track of everything we do. Why is that, you ask? Well, our personal information is probably one of our most valuable assets, whether we’re aware of that or not.

On the one hand, our details can be used for advertising purposes. If you fill in your email address somewhere on the Internet, don’t be surprised if you start receiving unsolicited emails trying to convince you to buy a product you never showed interest in. Also, if you happen to google a random word, such as “backpack” or maybe use it in a hashtag on a social media channel, expect to be targeted with Facebook/Google ads for backpacks almost immediately afterwards.

On the other hand, all the info you leave behind online can be used as evidence in a legal action, if that is the case. Maybe you decide to look up online the most extremist groups throughout history – out of pure curiosity or maybe you wish to write a book on the topic. This info can be used against you should you ever be involved in a lawsuit.

Last but not least, let’s not forget about hackers. Apart from simply stealing your credit card details used on an unsecure app/website and using them to make payments in your name, they can claim your personal identity and use it as their own.

All this (and not only) can be done using the data our mobiles learn about us. Here are a few tips & tricks leave less behind and keep more to yourself:

  1. Google Maps & Location Reporting

Google Maps knows exactly where you are or you’ve been and is not afraid to share. But there is a way to delete your history and disable future tracking.

To check if you have location history is enabled, head to your Google Maps Timeline, after logging in to your Google account. In the section below the map, you will see whether location history is on or off and you will also be able to pause it, if it is on.

But let’s go beyond Google maps. There are other apps using your location. You can also which apps are using location services on your iPhone by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services.

On Android, go to Settings > Location > Google Location Reporting. For Location Reporting, tap the slider to turn it off.

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Welcome to the USA! Upon entering, please relinquish your privacy

Donald Trump has only just taken up the role of president of the US and he seems to be determined to take one controversial measure after another.

An executive order that he signed in his first days in office is potentially threatening the 6-month-old EU-US Privacy Shield agreement.

In short, the order strips non-US citizens of their privacy rights. Here is what section 14 of the freshly signed Executive Order says:

“Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.” (the entire Executive Order can be found on the White House’s website)

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