Monthly Archives: January 2014

How To Stop NSA, GCHQ or press surveillance

There are many reasons why you might need anonymity online. Journalists, whistleblowers, bloggers and activists benefit from staying anonymous. So do people who might be discriminated against for expressing themselves, such as certain communities, religious groups and sex bloggers. Even if none of that applies to you, the NSA’s global reach means that it’s wise to protect your privacy even if you don’t live in the USA (and we Brits have GCHQ to worry about too). We can’t trust security companies to protect us, as they have secret deals with the NSA to keep security weak. Here are five ways to protect your privacy and anonymity online – operating systems, privacy while communicating, browsers and VPNs/proxies.

Operating Systems

The Tor Project has released the operating system Tails– the “Amnesiac Incognito Live System”- which helps you use the internet anonymously and access censored sites. Tails can be downloaded onto flash drives, DVDs and SD cards and is designed to be used independently of the computer’s built-in operating system (i.e. Windows 8). It leaves no trace.

Linux is said to be more secure than Windows or Mac, though as it doesn’t have a GUI, you’ll have to manually type commands. Which means us non-techie folks will struggle to use it. Debian and other Linux-based but non-manual operating systems might be better alternatives. The hacktivist group Anonymous has released its own operating system which is based on Linux. It’s called Anonymous-OS.

Anonymizing browsers

The Tor browser has just been updated to the 3.5 Tor browser bundle, which is faster. It’s basically the Mozilla Firefox browser, but with an important difference: Tor is an onion routing service designed for the US Navy and it routes your internet traffic through several relays. The EFF explains how Tor and HTTPS encryption works here. This means that if a hacker/journalist/the NSA is surveillancing you, they can’t see which sites you’re looking at or know your physical location. This is invaluable if you’re accessing sites which are prohibited in your country- which Tor also lets you do! Yes, you can see censored sites while using Tor. It’s also really handy because the Tor browser can be downloaded onto a flash drive for anonymity on the go- there’s also a version for android phones. Tor is used by police in sting operations, individuals and companies, and was recently used by the US military. A year ago I product-tested Tor and reviewed its pros and cons, and how to use it.

The Pirate Bay released an anti-censorship browser in August 2013 which proved very popular. It is also based on the Firefox browser and uses the Tor network. This browser allows you to view censored sites but as it’s only intended to circumvent blockades, it shouldn’t be used to protect your anonymity without any other protection.

Browser add-ons can protect you, too. The Firefox browser is safer than Internet Explorer and most other browsers. You can download the Ghostery add-on which protects against trackers and shows you which websites are tracking you. Most websites have programs which track your movements when you navigate to or away from the site. This is for marketing purposes, but it can be used to put viruses into your computer so Ghostery is good for virus protection in a way that Tor isn’t. Police may also use this kind of tracking to catch you if free speech is not protected where you are. Lifehacker claims that Disconnect works better than Ghostery. I’ve tried Disconnect in the Google Chrome browser and it doesn’t have the list of trackers that Ghostery has an option to have, though it shows how many trackers are being blocked. Disconnect automatically blocks Facebook, Twitter and Google from tracking you. Disconnect seems to be faster and less “invasive” than Ghostery, so it’s my personal preference.

Communicating privately (email, blogging, social media)

If you’re trying to communicate securely, dropping information into pastebins is much safer than blogging. IRC chatrooms can protect your identity and are sometimes used by journalists and their anonymous sources for this reason. Alternatively, Hushmail is an encrypted email service which is free, though the storage space is very limited if you don’t want to pay for an upgrade. Microsoft’s email service and Gmail are more secure than other email services. The EFF has a guide on anonymous blogging and Global Voices Advocacy has one on how to blog with WordPress and Tor (though things may have changed since it was published). Fearless Blogging is a blogging platform designed for anonymity. As for social media, changing your Facebook settings to ‘private’ is very simple but posts could still show up elsewhere on Facebook. An anonymous Twitter account that you only access while using a VPN or Tor might be a better bet.

VPNS and proxy servers

Virtual Private Networks will protect your identity. You can set up one yourself or pay to use proxy servers or a VPN, but these companies could hand over your data to the government if requested. There are free VPN services available; this article lists the VPN services which take anonymity seriously (will not log user data or give information to the government). Tunnelbear has a kitschy, cute interface and according to Lifehacker it’s one of the best free VPNs. Lifehacker lists Hotspot Shield is another great free VPN; lately when you download Hotspot it claims to be a free trial, but my trial version is still going without any means of taking my money. The downside to Hotspot Shield is the ads, which are now pop-ups (still preferable to the previous eye-scorching self promoting banners). Hotspot Shield used to suddenly stop its protection and require me to reconnect, but it’s much less glitchy now. I’ve been using it for over a year (uninstalled it at one point, only to have the NSA scandal break and be on the search for a good VPN once again).

However no free VPN will ever be as secure as a commercial VPN- though there are some rubbish VPNs out there that take your money and claim to be quality. If you want a free VPN that might- no guarantees, though, I’m no techie and am only going by what I’ve read- give you good protection, the free VPN Komodo was developed for commercial use and allows you to control any of your computers from anywhere, though I’ve not tested this.

Remember you’re the one most likely to expose yourself

This is why I’m not properly anonymous. I’d mess it up. I’ve seen people plan to start anonymous blogs on public forums. I’ve seen anonymous bloggers reveal too many personal details or post to the wrong account. If you’re anonymous, don’t register for domains under your own name or Google Analytics could reveal your location and even your name. Never use the same photos or pieces of text for both identities if you’re serious about your anonymity, as your identities could be linked by looking up photos or putting text through programs designed to catch plagiarism. Google indexes comments, tweets, Facebook posts, wishlists, online purchases and public forum messages. There’s often a percieved mystery around doxing (finding an anonymous person’s real identity) but all a ‘dox’ is, is a quick Google, maybe a visit to a directory (such as Pipl).I know of one anonymous blogger and sex predator who was (rightfully) outed partly because of his purchase of certain books. So I’m choosing pseudonymity over anonymity- it’s less work. Even if it’s less secret and fun.

Slut Shaming: When Teens Adopt Traditional Values

This article was first published on Cliterati.co.uk on 11/12/13.

 

Slut shamed to death. Not just Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Potts but other victims all over the world who we’ll never hear about. Most of the women we do hear about are middle class, cis, white and very young. They usually have caring, confident parents who can publicise their stories, hire lawyers and contact media. But girls whose parents can’t speak English as a first language, who are seen as promiscuous or troubled, whose parents and community don’t value them, whose culture might condone shaming them even more than ours does- who speaks for them when they are raped, bullied, and failed by the authorities? Many girls and women are bullied but don’t reveal what the ‘reason’ for the bullying was. Most don’t kill themselves and so they’ll never make the headlines. Perhaps the saddest thing is that while feminism and even mainstream culture view rape as the worst thing that can happen to women, these girls didn’t kill themselves because they were raped, molested or exploited. They killed themselves because of the bullying and slut shaming. For Rehtaeh- and many others- the slut shaming was worse than the gang rape. Rape isn’t always the worst thing or the fate that is worse than death.

 

 

One of the rapists who attacked Rehtaeh Parsons contacted her mother to tell her he is not a rapist and to ask her to help him as he was being bullied for committing rape. He claimed that he cried when he knew she had killed herself. Either he’s a compulsive liar or he genuinely believes that what he did wasn’t rape. In Scots law a genuine belief that the victim has consented can be used as a defence in rape cases (because mens rea, or intention, is needed for anyone to be convicted of any criminal offence) so if Rehtaeh Parsons’ attackers were tried in Scotland they might be acquitted. As a feminist it’s probably sacrilege for me to say this, but I think it’s sad if people who genuinely believe their victim is consenting go to jail (not that it often happens). I’m not saying they shouldn’t be jailed. While some of these people might genuinely misunderstand their victim, some might not know that what they’re doing is rape but nevertheless have the intention to disrespect or take advantage of their victims. That’s why we need to teach consent in sex and relationships education. Teaching consent benefits young people of all and no genders. Increasing the rape conviction rate is very important but preventing assaults and harassment from occurring in the first place would be even more beneficial. And we need to teach young children about respecting others. A message of respect could help stop bullying, sexual assaults and the publicising of sexts.

 

But it seems like the message that preteens and teens are learning is to disrespect girls and women. To share their sexts, label them liars when they report rape, bully them for having their sexts shared and shame them for doing anything remotely sexual- even if they were coerced into doing so by an adult. Cyberbullying and sharing images are often given a false veneer of ‘newness’ in the media but cameras have been around for decades and really all that these kids are doing is reproducing the classic slut shaming and victim blaming. The fact that they’re doing it via text and Facebook instead of face to face or via village gossip isn’t actually that relevant. Far from being an ultra modern hypersexed generation, they’re conservative and sexist in the extreme. Back when I was at school, 12 year olds getting pregnant weren’t slut shamed and a 14 year old girl secretly filmed by her boyfriend while they were having sex (the film was put online) wasn’t bullied for it- though she was slut shamed for changing boyfriends (!) Teens might actually be getting more misogynistic and sexually conservative.

 

The UnSlut Project aims to stop slut shaming in schools, communities and the media. The Project is currently in the process of creating a documentary to reveal the extent of slut shaming and explore the steps that can be taken to address this issue. UnSlut Project has been featured in The Observer and Slate and was voted the number one non fiction work on Wattpad, the world’s largest story sharing community. “Slut shaming doesn’t just harm the girls who are directly targeted,” warns founder Emily Lindin. “Living in a society where slut shaming is a constant threat harms all girls. Girls are sent very conflicting messages about sexuality and how they ought to dress and act – they should be sexy, but in a very specific way that they see reinforced in the media. And if they are somehow perceived as too sexy, or as embracing their own sexuality, they are ‘out of control’ and must be shamed.” Ms Lindin knows only too well how destructive slut shaming and sexual bullying can be. Part of the inspiration to create UnSlut Project comes from the slut shaming she suffered as a teenager. Lindin has published her teenage diaries on a blog and UnSlut Project offers teens and preteens a safe space to discuss their experiences of slut shaming. “It’s a terrifying challenge to navigate these expectations,” she says. “[A]nd it often leads to a misunderstanding of self-worth, low self-esteem, and long-term sexuality issues.”

 

In a nutshell, it’s dangerous, misogynistic and pointless. And most tragic of all, women slut shame other women at least as much as men. The child pornography of Amanda Todd was widely shared after she killed herself – not by disrespectful boys or even predatory older men, but by girls. They were trying to tell the world what a slut she was even after she was dead. They’re not yet 16 and they’ve already internalised a hatred of ‘sluts’ and a rabid victim blaming of 11 year olds coerced into sexting by paedophiles. They’re much more slut-hating than most adults. But maybe it’s not that surprising that yoiung teens slut shame to the grave and beyond. Kids learn values from adults. What chance have they got when adult women slut shame each other and the concept of ‘slut’ and the sexual double standard are popularised by pop culture and the media? Parents teach their kids that bullying is unacceptable but at the same time they condone or even encourage slut shaming. Even progressive, liberal or feminist parents often fail to teach their children to question the word ‘slut’ and the sexual double standard.

 

That’s a shame, because the concept of “slut” is based on historical patriarchal values which women didn’t get to decide. The double standard is self-defeating as it requires men to be experienced and women to be much less experienced, which means “sluts” are essential in society to give experience to men. So the double standard itself relies on “sluts” for its existence. The definition of a “slut” changes by the decade and varies between generations, countries and social groups. Anyone can be called a slut- even children, virgins or rape victims, as happened to Amanda Todd, Audrie Potts and Rehtaeh Parsons. Slut shaming relies on an artificially black and white way of understanding sexual behaviour and evaluating women, as we can see from the fact that the Facebook groups which supported the rapists designated Rehtaeh Parsons a “slut”. (Is this the hip new 2013 revamp of the virgin/whore dichotomy- the rape victim/slut dichotomy?) Slut shaming also relies on a set of ideas which designate more sex as bad and less sex as good, as well as the idea that there are only two genders and the opposite is bad or good for each gender. Sexual behaviour is also conflated with ethics or morality. We could just as easily designate more sex as good for women and bad for men. We could just as easily conflate sex with logistics or with cookery as conflate it with ethics.

 

Slut shaming and victim blaming are part of a wider problem of school bullying and misogyny. These attitudes are taught to teenagers by the media, by society and pop culture. Porn filters aren’t going to fix these problems (the scarcity of porn might if anything make sexts more ‘valuable’ and more likely to be shared). Children need to be taught to respect other people from a young age and there shouldn’t be a mystery or dirtiness about sex. In Sweden very young children know how babies are made and don’t get all giggly and pervy about it; they accept it as natural. Maybe if our kids were educated the same way, they wouldn’t see a photo of a naked peer as something worthy of sharing; nudity and sex wouldn’t be a big deal to them. As a 6 year old I was read a book called ‘Where Do Babies Come From?’ (complete with illustrations). The result? Sex Ed lessons as a teen were boring and I was confused at everyone else’s embarrassment and how ignorant they were. Teaching about consent and respect are better solutions than censoring pornography and if teens respect each other, there will be far fewer Rehtaehs, Audries and Amandas.

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