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What is NSA? Can the NSA see me?
Cybersecurity· 7 minutes
The National Security Agency or the NSA for short is an American intelligence agency. The agency NSA deals primarily in information. They collect, monitor, or simply use online data from the public for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes. The NSA specializes in intercepting signals and communications irrespective of whether or not that communication is taking place over electronics. From intercepting phone calls to requiring companies like Google to hand over their data, the NSA has also been known to bug foreign offices and embassies.
While the agency was originally formed in 1952, the revelation of its existence happened in 1975. With tens of thousands of employees, keeping the existence of an agency of this scale secret for so long is a feat unimaginable in the modern world. Yet the NSA was able to do it.
The NSA might as well be the most mysterious organization in the world as its activities are completely confidential and classified. Some of the information that the public has access to is thanks to whistleblowers like Edward Snowden who revealed many of the organization’s surveillance programs.
How NSA surveillance works in America
While it would be safe to assume that the USA constitution and laws would protect American citizens from surveillance, leaks and whistleblowers have proven otherwise. The Patriot Act set in place by the Bush administration soon after 9/11 lifted many restrictions on the NSA and allowed them to monitor domestic activities.
PRISM, is a surveillance program under which the NSA collects internet communications from the local internet companies, including companies like Google. Although these companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple have denied being part of a program, it is quite possible that they simply cannot talk about their involvement.
"If these companies received an order under the FISA amendments act, they are forbidden by law from disclosing having received the order and disclosing any information about the order at all," - Mark Rumold
The true extent of access that the NSA has to data collected by American companies is unknown, the agency itself is as secretive as possible, while Yahoo! reported that the USA Government threatened them with a $250,000 fine per day that it refuses to hand over data, other companies have remained silent on the matter. Leaving us with more questions than answers on the matter. But we do know some things revealed by Snowden himself.
PRISM is an NSA program that collects internet communications from US tech companies. The NSA collects information from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, and other US-based companies that provide communication services. Users’ private emails, videos, photos, and even their voice calls are handed over to NSA.
Phone Records & Wiretapping
The NSA has access to phone records and at times, even the audio calls themselves. Wiretapping has been an ancient method of surveillance. However, the NSA takes it one step further by also recording these calls and analyzing all the communication that places on them.
How NSA spies on you overseas
While local laws and regulations, including the constitution of the United States, does limit the activity of the NSA when it comes to domestic US citizens, foreigners outside of the United States do not enjoy this protection.
The NSA has been involved in collecting information for blackmailing purposes about people’s sexual activities, orientation, and preferences. Even if they had not committed any criminal activities. On the other hand, they are intercepting millions of images on a daily basis for their facial recognition purposes.
During the Iraq War, the NSA also started the “collect it all” strategy in terms of information. Collecting all electronic communications, storing them, and then analyzing them to identify potential targets and intelligence. On the other hand, the NSA works with the CIA in the middle east to identify targets for extrajudicial assassinations. Even allies of the United States are not safe from the NSA’s surveillance. Neither is the European Union, nor the United Nations.
So how does one protect itself from an organization that has access to all data everywhere? Let us first take a look at how the NSA manages to get its hands everywhere.
There have been multiple reports of the NSA attempting to or trying to have backdoors built into encryption systems. In some instances, there is proof such as in the case of IBM Notes where an update made it difficult to hack through the encryption… for everyone except the NSA. Over a third of the encrypted bits were sent and received using a key easily accessible to the NSA.
While it is true that breaking modern encryption techniques is next to impossible, there is nothing stopping the NSA from using programs such as PRISM to force domestic US companies to hand over your decrypted data.
We do eventually decrypt all encrypted communications, right? Your phone is responsible for both encrypting and decrypting all the WhatsApp messages sent or received. How? Because they use “end to end encryption” – While the NSA cannot decipher what exactly you are sending or receiving, the actual meta-data of those messages is intact and incredibly useful.
What type of data does the NSA collect?
The NSA does not have direct access to the actual unencrypted forms of communications. Rather, they rely on collecting meta-data. Meta-data can give all sorts of information about you. Including where you currently are, how long you stay at a certain location, whom you communicate with, and what do you do before or after your communications.
By combining this meta-data with the countless images, videos, texts, emails, and other communications that the NSA intercepts. They are able to create detailed profiles and connect the dots between a user’s online activity and their uploaded data.
In addition to collecting meta-data and the media files that the NSA collects, they are also known for other reasons. They intercept internet traffic as it travels from one server to another, or from one country to another. All internet traffic passes with a source and a destination encoded in. This provides the NSA with even more meta-data to use and tally with their pre-existing collection to identify users.
How to protect yourself from NSA surveillance
Despite everything that the NSA has invested in, there are other protection methods. For instance, you can use it to protect yourself from direct monitoring. The most effective method of protecting yourself is by connecting to the internet through a VPN service. More importantly, it's crucial to choose a reliable VPN proxy for cybersecurity.
Services like VPN Proxy Master provide you with two key protections against surveillance by organizations like the NSA. Keep in mind that the NSA primarily bypasses encryption altogether by accessing data before encryption or right after decryption. Secondly, the NSA collects meta-data in bulk about all online activities. With VPN Proxy Master, all your information is safe and sound.
While connected to VPN Proxy Master, all communications between your server and the VPN server you connect are safe. The reason is that it uses encryption of the highest standard to ensure that no third party can decrypt your data. The added benefit of this is that this sort of encrypted communication also includes all the relevant meta-data. For instance, website you are attempting to access, where the request is coming from, and other identifiable information. That is to say, all communication uses the same encryption. The only meta-data that the NSA has access to is that you are using a VPN service.
Strict no-log policy
What is the point of using a VPN service if they log all of your online activity and end up sharing it with the authorities? What if they do so even if you have not been involved in any criminal activity? VPN Proxy Master follows a strict no-logging policy where they do not log your VPN activity on their servers. And if they are no logs collected, they cannot be any logs handed over to an authority like the NSA.
Meta-data & geo-location
Websites and actors like the NSA are able to track who you are and where you are from. Even if you do not have accounts registered with their service. Facebook is famous for creating ghost profiles for people that existed visited their platform often. So that when they actually do register, Facebook would already know what their interests are and what they care about.
However, your internet browser does give up a lot of this information about you. The core method that this sort of profile-building technology relies on is by identifying your IP address or the group of IP addresses. Indeed, your IP address is an important source of information. Furthermore, Facebook also tracks the location of your mouse cursor and associates that with your profile as well. Mouse usage is like a digital fingerprint. Everyone uses it differently and we all have patterns and movements unique to us.
Thankfully, VPN Proxy Master has thousands of servers all with different IP addresses that you can use to ensure that government agencies or private mega-corporations cannot create accurate ghost profiles about you and your interests. They are all the same anyway because as Snowden revealed, under the PRISM program Facebook and other tech companies will just hand over data to the NSA anyway.