While the intent might be up for debate, the fact that our governments and businesses appear to be watching our every move isn’t. As technology increases, seemingly more and more rapidly, more data about us is stored and shared and most of the time, we are unaware it is being collected or how it might be used. Many people are oblivious to the ways in which they are monitored and being spied nearly every day, in some aspect of their lives. It might be while conducting business at a store, getting money out of an ATM, or even just talking on their cellphone while walking down a city street.
The first step to protecting yourself is understanding the biggest surveillance threats that actually exist. The next step is taking precautions to protect yourself against them. In this article, you will learn about those surveillance threats, and some ways to safeguard against them.
Ways You Are Being Spied on
1. Being Spied by Increasing CCTV Surveillance
In 2011, there was one CCTV camera for every 32 UK citizens. By 2016, this number had increased to one for every 11, making the United Kingdom the most spied upon country in the world.
Not that the UK is alone in its surveillance of citizens. Almost all countries have security cameras in place. In 2013, the BBC ran a story about the increasing numbers of CCTV cameras being installed and put into operation across the United States, where they were being hailed as crucial in apprehending the culprits of the Boston bombing. That is why these cameras are put in place, and there are plenty of examples of them being used to good effect. There increasing numbers, however, make some people uneasy, and the line between security and the infringement on privacy is becoming grayer all the time.
2. Facial Recognition
The intent of the system went far beyond the typical security cameras you may find in stores. Instead, it was to scan the eyes of petrol customers to determine age and gender for the purpose of delivering targeted ads to the screens installed in the petrol stations.
The use of such technology has only expanded. Companies like Face First offer surveillance technologies to retailers that use advanced facial recognition technology to identify known shoplifters and alert store managers to their presence. The technology is also used to recognized known repeat “good” customers. So that they can receive VIP treatment – making sure they return to the store in the future.
For retailers this technology is promising, but it’s a disturbing privacy concern to consumer and privacy rights advocates. As far back as 2012, when this was initially coming to maturity, the Consumers Union issued an open letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), advising the agency that the technology – while immensely useful for the retail and advertising industries – could pose very serious privacy issues for consumers.
The Consumers Union pointed out that such technology targeting children could make the current youth obesity epidemic worse, and targeting teens with weight-loss products could make adolescent self-esteem issues worse. The most serious issue is the fact that there are no guidelines preventing companies from collecting and storing such surveillance information about you and your purchasing behaviors.
The next time you’re going shopping, keep an eye out for those overhead cameras that you are being spied on by your every move!
3. Being Spied by Smart TVs
If you have a television that is connected to the Internet, not only is it recording what you are watching and when you watch it, but there is even the possibility that someone could be literally watching you.
A lot of smart TVs have microphones and even cameras built into them. Should there be any kind of security breach on the server your set is operating on, others could spy on your actions through your set. Security breaches have been called into question, mainly due to TVs connected to servers without thorough security checks. So your data could easily be stolen, or spyware and other such programs could be sent back to your television.
4. Internet Searches and Web History
Every time you perform a search on Google or most other search engines, that data is logged and stored and it can be accessed by governments whenever they feel the need. In the United States, the famous PATRIOT Act is open-ended enough to encompass Internet searches and web history.
It isn’t just the United States, though. In November 2015, the UK government announced that as part of its ongoing fight against terrorism, people’s website history would be kept on record for a year by the relevant Internet providers. Key words are often used as “triggers” to warrant the government and other agencies taking a closer look at someone’s Internet history. Although the government announced safeguards would be put in place to prevent intelligence agencies and the police from abusing such information, there was considerable apprehension over the plans.
5. Being Spied through “Webcam Hacking”
In May of 2014, U.S. officials arrested 90 people who were part of an organization known as “Blackshades”. Blackshades produced and sold software that let hackers connect into any computer running Microsoft Windows and take control of the webcam. One college student was even arrested for using the software to capture nude photos of Miss Teen USA.
If you’re wondering whether you should be concerned, consider the fact that the organization sold thousands of copies totaling $350,000 of sales, with an estimated 700,000 victims across 100 countries since 2010. Yes, it really is possible for someone to hack your webcam, as James recently explained.
The scary part of the software is that it isn’t just the webcam that’s susceptible. Hackers get access to keystrokes and passwords, they can take screenshots, and they can access your computer files. The only safety that might set your mind at ease is the fact that victims need to be tricked into actually clicking on a malicious link that installs the offending software. If you’re clever enough at identifying phishing emails, and you avoid clicking on suspicious web links, you may be able to keep yourself safe from this particular threat.
Sounds simple to keep yourself safe right? Well, think again.
In December of 2014, Telegraph writer Sophie Curtis asked her “ethical hacker” friend John Yeo, an employee of Trustwave, to try and hack into her computer. The hackers worked tirelessly to learn as much as they could about Sophie online, and eventually crafted phony emails that fooled Sophie into clicking. Immediately infecting her laptop and giving hackers access to everything, including her webcam. Even people who believe they are immune to such tactics can be fooled.
6. Voice Recognition Software
Although not widespread right now, voice recognition software will be rolled out over the coming years and be used to identify and store our voices. In 2012, a Russian company working in the United States under the name SpeechPro developed a system that it said can contain millions of voices. It can match a voice on a phone call to its database within seconds.
The technology is already in use in Mexico, and the United States stated that it was in talks with agencies to roll out the software across America. They also stated, however, that they would not be commenting any further on such a roll out, due to data protection laws.
If you have a smartphone—and most of us do—you may not realize just how smart it actually is or the amount of data it stores about your physical movements, your searches, and just about every other action. The more advanced these phones become, the more information is available for companies to use how they see fit. It is even possible on some phones to trace someone’s movements for the last year.
Every time a new app is downloaded on to your phone, chances are it stores information about you and to access said app, you give it permission to do so. Most phone companies state that the information is kept solely on the device and is not sent to any external storage. As you might imagine, some people are little suspicious as to whether this is completely accurate.
Being aware of all of the ways you are being spied on every day doesn’t mean that you have to constantly worry about who is listening to you, reading your emails or tracking your location. What it does mean is that you should always be aware of your surroundings, and how you are using technology when transmitting information that you actually consider to be either sensitive or very personal.
There are plenty of ways to evade surveillance attempts even attempts by your own government. You can do it by using encrypted resources when you are dealing with sensitive information, or simply beefing up your computer’s security environment in a big way.
But once you have put all of your safeguards in place, stop worrying. Live your life, comfortable in the knowledge that you have taken the appropriate steps to protect yourself.