The New Oil

Information Security for normal people | https://www.TheNewOil.org | https://thenewoil.org/blog-index.html

In my first blog post this month, I decided to focus on cybersecurity basics in celebration of October being Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Originally the blog was “5 Cyber Security Basics” and included Network Security as #5, however as I began to write that portion it quickly ballooned into a bigger topic that nearly doubled the post length and deserved its own deep dive. So this week, let’s pick up on that topic and really dig in.

If you have internet at home – as most of us do – you can leverage your router for added device protection, and in some cases add protections that may otherwise not normally be available. For example, a smart TV rarely (if ever) allows you to load a VPN on the device, but putting one on your router can give you that same protection. Here are a few basic pieces of network protection that I will discuss in order of accessibility:

1. Change default passwords

Try this: go to your favorite privacy-respecting search engine and search “[your router model number] default login.” You may be surprised to see that your router probably has a pre-programmed login – especially if it’s inexpensive – and that many forums and websites share that default information for lots of perfectly valid reasons. Most people don’t bother to change this information, and furthermore most people don’t bother to change the router’s default IP address – usually 192.168.1.1. If an attacker were able to access your network, they could easily find your router login page, determine what type of router you’re using (it usually says on the login page) and then do the same search you just did. So the first line of defense that anyone can do is to change the default login on your router. At bare minimum, you should change the password, but most of them also allow you to change the username too. You should also change the default IP address while you’re at it.

2. Use a good passphrase for the WiFi

If you’re like me, the first question you ask in most new places – especially if it’s someone you know somewhat well – is “what’s the WiFi?” If you set up your guest WiFi appropriately – discussed further down – then you’ll probably be more than happy to let people login. But you also want to make sure only approved people log in. The easiest way to do that is to use a strong password, but trying to tell your friends to login using the password “h+h{u3eUda.i2k7E” is a nightmare. Instead, I personally have found it extremely easy to use a 6-word passphrase for the WiFi, then when people ask I say “it’s all lowercase, with spaces” then read off the words to them one at a time (or just hand them a piece of paper). Your friends may laugh at your over-the-top password, but in my experience they also express a degree of respect for having such a strong one and because it's all words it's still relatively easy for them to put in.

3. Enable a firewall

Most routers come with a built-in firewall. This may or may not be sufficient for more advanced tasks, like blocking known IP addresses of trackers or porn sites (if you want child-friendly filters), but they should do a decent enough job of keeping outsiders from being able to probe your network. A good firewall will block most connections unless you initiate them, meaning that your experience should change little, if at all, while outsiders are thwarted. Personally I like the “try it and see what happens” approach. If you enable a firewall setting and it turns out to be too much, you can always disable it later.

4. VPN

Some routers possess the ability to load a VPN onto them. Not all routers support this – usually the one your ISP issues you and the cheapest ones you can buy yourself don't – but it is increasingly common, even in the mid-range “off the shelf” routers you'd find at any given big box store. If your router supports a VPN, this a great way to work around the simultaneous connection limits of less expensive plans – a router on your VPN only counts as one connection, even if you have a dozen devices connected to it. Not to mention, as I said earlier, many devices like smart TVs or home assistants don’t allow you to load a VPN directly onto the device, but loading it onto the router can allow you to safely hide them behind the tunnel anyways. (Of course, I encourage you to be judicious with your IoT devices, but sometimes they’re unavoidable.)

If your router doesn’t support a VPN, it almost certainly supports changing the DNS. While this provides significantly less privacy than a VPN, I still encourage you to switch to a DNS provider that provides content blocking if a VPN is not an option. Some of the providers listed here provide lists that block known trackers, malware, ads, and even adult websites if you have kids.

5. VLANs

Just as some routers support VPNs, some nicer routers also support VLANs. VLANs are Virtual Local Area Networks. To put it in simple terms: VLANs are isolated subnets within your network. Two devices on separate VLANs will treat each other as if they’re in separate parts of the world, even if they’re right next to each other and connected to the same router. This can be a powerful piece of defense against malware: if your smart TV gets compromised but is isolated to its own VLAN, the malware is unable to spread to other devices on other VLANs. If your router supports VLANs, you should set these up. Generally speaking, the minimum recommended setup is to have an isolated guest WiFi, an isolated WiFi for people who live in the home, and an isolated IoT network – whether WiFi or hardwired – specifically for IoT devices. You can add more if your router supports it and you feel the need.

6. Update the Firmware

As with most firmware, router firmware typically doesn't get updated very often, if at all. When purchasing a new router, be sure to check and make sure that it does indeed get updates. In a perfect world, you should get one that has automatic updates, but in my experience those are rare (if they exist at all). Instead, the next best solution is set a reminder to periodically check the manufacturer website for new firmware and update the router manually. Personally, I recommend at least once every six months, but of course you're always welcome to do that more often if you want.

This is also a good time to mention flashing custom firmware such as DD-WRT, OpenWRT, or Tomato onto your router. It's likely that a stock router firmware – from companies like Linksys, Asus, or Netgear – probably collects at least some degree of user data, even with things like VPNs enabled. Using an open source firmware will likely reduce much – if not all – of this data collection, and reduces the likelihood of software backdoors. These can take some time to adjust to and require specific routers, so be sure to do your research. I personally have been using DD-WRT for over a year now and how found it more than enough for my needs. Your needs and resources may vary.

Conclusion

As with anything in the privacy game, there’s always more to do. This is just scratching the surface of ways you can secure your home network. But just using these few techniques will put miles ahead of most people and give you a relatively secure and private network you can use at home to help protect yourself from snooping ISPs and trackers, non-targeted malicious attack, and just give yourself a lit more safety and peace of mind.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.

What is Wire & Why Do You Need It?

Wire is an end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) messenger available on Linux, Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS. I have long touted the need for E2EE in your daily communication platform for both practical and philosophical reasons. For practical reasons, it can protect sensitive communications like financial discussions, upcoming plans, and NSFW pics/texts if that’s your thing. For philosophical reasons, I think that everyone should use encryption whenever possible to normalize it and make mass surveillance less feasible/practical/economical. I’ve gotten to the point where encryption is such a normal part of my life that I feel uncomfortable talking about serious subjects on unencrypted channels these days.

The Good

Wire has a lot of valuable features. In addition to the obvious things that make it recommended by this site such as being open source and audited, one major advantage of Wire is that it is username based. You can sign up entirely anonymously by signing up on desktop, using a VPN (or Tor), and using a throwaway email. Even without hardcore anonymous signup, you can still retain a great deal of privacy by using a forwarding email address and not submitting a phone number or real name. And because you pick a username, that means you can privately communicate with others without having to provide any personal information like a phone number to that person. You can also have up to three accounts on a single device, allowing you to easily compartmentalize work and personal life.

According to their privacy policy, Wire does not retain any encryption keys, and uses TLS to encrypt metadata when possible. They claim not to retain copies of encrypted data after it has been delivered, and to only keep technical logs for 72 hours for the purposes of troubleshooting and abuse-prevention. If I remember correctly, analytics were opt-in (not on by default) when I signed up for an account.

Ultimately, I think Wire’s biggest features are the universal availability in terms of devices and the support of usernames. These two features alone make it a powerful choice worth considering.

The Bad

However, Wire is not without its drawbacks. The privacy policy I linked doesn’t contain any information about the data they collect, be it detailed or vague. For example, they just say they collect “technical data” in the logs I mentioned before. It’s also worth noting that their exact jurisdiction is fuzzy: Wire itself is based in Switzerland, but the holding company that “owns” them for funding purposes is based in Germany – which is largely considered a country with strong consumer privacy laws, but they have a pretty eager history with surveillance.

Perhaps the single biggest drawback I noticed right away was how slow it is. Wire is very slow. I can’t emphasize that enough. Not just in the sending/receiving of messages but just in the general operation. Without dating myself too much, I grew up in the dial-up days. I know what slow internet and slow devices are like. Wire isn’t that slow by comparison, but by modern standards it is very slow. Loading new pages, sending a message, all of that stuff takes a good second or two, sometimes three.

It’s also relatively lacking in features. Wire’s business model is to focus on companies, so it makes sense they wouldn’t have all the trappings that other messengers like Telegram, WhatsApp, and Signal have adopted in order to reel in the casual user, but even so it was a huge culture shock moving from Signal to Wire while testing for this review. Group chats are a thing, and so are voice and video calls, but no voice messages, GIF support is clunky at best, and no ability to quote and reply to specific messages (that last one does seem a little weird even for Wire – I know firsthand that group workplace chats can get very confusing very fast without that ability).

Last but not least, it’s important to know what got Wire booted from Privacy Guides in the first place: changing the privacy policy without announcing it. While this is common for many services, it’s troubling for privacy- and security-advocating services in particular. Based on the most recent privacy policy I read, this still seems to be their practice. (It’s worth noting that this blog cites an article that says Wire stores unencrypted metadata. I was unable to confirm if this is still true, and as I mentioned Wire’s own privacy policy is quite vague on what constitutes a “technical log.”)

Oh, and it’s also worth noting that Wire is centralized. A premium feature does allow it to be federated for enterprises, but for the average free user, the main centralized server is your only choice.

Conclusion

Wire is far from perfect, but to be honest there is no perfect messenger in the privacy space. The ones that are user-friendly usually have glaring flaws, and the ones that are almost perfect are usually nightmarish to implement and/or use. Wire is definitely not for everybody, however I think it offers some powerful advantages – much of the metadata collection can be outsmarted with a simple VPN and a forwarding email address (and by using it on desktop only, if your threat model is that severe) – and the ability to have a username instead of a phone number is something that can’t be discredited. However, I don’t think Wire is right for everyone. Again, while it is user-friendly it’s also missing a lot of mainstream features that you would find in something like Signal that you might be able to use to lure in your non-privacy-centric friends, and even services like Matrix offer a plethora of features alongside decentralization. Ultimately I think Wire might be a good trade-off between Matrix and Signal: a little more user-friendly than Matrix, but doesn’t require a mobile device like Signal does. Ultimately, as always, it depends on your needs and threat model.

You can learn more and download Wire here.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month! In keeping with the theme, this month I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the security side of privacy and security. Let’s start with a quick review of the basics, and for anyone new to this stuff, consider this a “getting started” guide.

1. Strong Unique Passwords

The single most important thing you can do to protect your accounts is to not reuse passwords, and to make sure that each password is strong. What does “strong” look like? Conventional wisdom says at least 16 characters. I like to future-proof and say at least 30 or more if the site allows it.

Passphrase or password?

This is where we arrive at the never-ending debate about whether passphrases or passwords are better. A good, strong, password is a randomly generated set of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. A good, strong passphrase is a series of randomly-selected words (five or more words).

Many people argue that a passphrase is superior to a password because of the length. The crux of this argument mainly rests on the fact that most people tend to use short, easily-remembered (and therefore easily-guessed) passwords. It stands to reason that a randomly-generated passphrase of five or more words is better than a password because even a short passphrase would be 25+ characters and a criminal would have to guess every possible combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, AND special characters. Each character you add exponentially increases the amount of time spent guessing.

However, this argument also rests on the idea that you have to remember your password. There are definitely some that you have to remember, like the password to unlock your device or to login to your password manager (which I’ll discuss in a moment). Those should definitely be passphrases so you can get the best of both worlds: easy to remember, but still long and secure. Beyond that, I don’t think there’s a right answer. Without going into technical detail, from a cybercriminal’s perspective, a 30-character passphrase and a 30-character password require the same amount of work to crack. It’s entirely personal preference. Personally I prefer to go with passwords because most sites will require uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and characters anyways, and it saves me the time of switching my password manager back to “password” mode from “passphrase” mode, but again that's just personal preference. As long as they're long enough, there's really no difference. (But I wouldn't go around advertising that you use a passphrase if that's your choice, for reasons that fall outside of the scope of this post.)

How to Get Started

Regardless of whether you choose to go the password route or the passphrase route (from here on out, I’ll just say “password” as a catchall to save time), one of the most important practices is to not reuse your password anywhere. Even with only a handful of accounts, this can quickly become unrealistic, especially if you only use some of those accounts rarely and therefore are likely to forget the password for those accounts. I strongly encourage the use of a password manager: a program that can record all your login information in a secure manner that keeps it reasonably safe from data breaches or attackers. Here, you can safely record all your usernames, passwords, login link, and other information. As an added bonus, doing this can help you avoid phishing attacks because you have the login link saved for easy and direct access. At this time the only two password managers I recommend are Bitwarden and Keepass. You can find more information about both of them and how to use them here. Be sure to enable the next feature on your password manager of choice's account, too, for added security.

2. Multifactor Authentication

Multifactor authentication is when you have to use more than just your username and/or password to login to a service. A username/password is considered “something you know.” A second factor could include “something you are,” which takes the form of biometrics like a fingerprint scan, or “somewhere you are,” which could be the geolocation on your phone when signing into an app. The most common second factor is “something you have,” which usually takes the form of a code on your phone. In some cases, this code is sent to you via SMS or email, but it can also be generated by an app (known as a “software token”). According to Microsoft, using two-factor authentication (or 2FA) can stop up to 99% of unauthorized account access. With 2FA, even if a criminal gets ahold of your username and password, they still need that code to get into your account. Combining 2FA with the password advise above can make you almost (but never 100%) unhackable.

How to Get Started

First, try to avoid two-factor codes that are sent to you via SMS or email if you have other options. These are largely considered to be insecure because SIM-based phone numbers can be easily taken over by an attacker. Email isn’t much harder either and can have much further-reaching consequences if compromised. Some services offer “push” authentication – For example, Google may ask you to confirm the login on your Android device. This is marginally better, but for the best blend of “easy-to-use,” “widely available,” and “secure,” you probably want to use a software token. I list a few different options here, as well as some information about hardware tokens. Hardware tokens are the most secure two-factor option, but are not without their drawbacks and are not for the faint of heart. That link has all the information you need to know if you’re curious.

3. Zero-Knowledge Storage

These days, most of our lives are online: email, real-time communications, social media, many of us even have automatic cloud backup on our devices for photos or files. From a cybersecurity perspective, this is incredibly dangerous. This would be the equivalent of giving your house keys to a stranger every day when you go to work, then giving them your car keys every night when you get home and hoping that they don’t take your stuff or abuse it. (Spoiler alert: they often do.) An easy way to reduce this risk is to switch to zero-knowledge storage solutions. For email this could be Ctemplar, ProtonMail, Tutanota, or a whole host of others. For real-time communications Signal dominates the market but is not alone. There are a plethora of good choices. For storage I’ve had good experiences with services like Filen, Nextcloud, and ProtonDrive. For social media you are unfortunately less likely to find options that meet your needs. If you’re just a lurker, there’s tons of great front-ends like Libreddit, Nitter, and Invidious that can help protect your privacy and reduce tracking. If you actually want to post and contribute, there are platforms like Mastodon and PeerTube, but they may not scratch your social itch. Instead, the best I can offer is to remember that anything you upload to a mainstream social media provider like Facebook or Twitter becomes theirs and more often than not becomes public. Once you hit “post,” “tweet,” “share,” whatever, you instantly lose control over what happens to it from there, for better or worse.

4. Full Disk Encryption & Backups

Of course, not all threats to our digital lives are digital in nature. A broken device can result in loss of important documents and a stolen one can result in exposure of sensitive information. Many of these risks can be mitigated by using good backup habits and full disk encryption. Let’s start with the first one.

Backups

There’s a lot that goes into good backups. For a full rundown, see this page. Here’s the short version:

  1. Figure out how much space you need

  2. Decide how often you need to back things up

  3. Come up with a system that works for you – automatic backups, calendar reminders, whatever.

Don’t forget the 3-2-1 rule: 3 copies of your data (including your “live” in-use copy), 2 formats (cloud and external hard drive, for example), and 1 off-site (such as the cloud).

Full Disk Encryption

So what if your primary device gets lost? Or what if a criminal breaks into your home and steals your external backup drive? This is where full-disk encryption comes into play. Even before I was into privacy and technology, I learned that I can use a $20 cable from Newegg and a second computer to remove a computer’s hard drive and access it, even if the computer won’t boot up (related note: never pay Geek Squad to recover your dead computers. It's a scam. Just use that). But full-disk encryption makes this drive unreadable and inaccessible unless you have the password. Macs come with a program called FileVault, many Windows versions come with Bitlocker, and some Linux devices offer LUKS. If your device doesn’t have these, or if you’d prefer using something else, I recommend Veracrypt. (This is good for encrypting external backups, too.) For Android and iOS, these get encrypted automatically as soon as you enable a password to unlock. You can learn more about all of this here.

Conclusion

Originally this post was supposed to be “5 Cybersecurity Basics,” and #5 was going to be network security. However, my sublist of tips kept growing and growing and now it’s basically a blog post of its own. So tune in the week after next (next week is a review week) for the conclusion with some tips on how to secure your home network better.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.

Disclaimer/Disclosure of Interest: I use ProtonVPN’s Plus plan and I have a ProtonVPN affiliate link.

What is ProtonVPN?

A VPN – or Virtual Private Network – is a service that creates an encrypted tunnel between the device – be it a phone, computer, or router – and the VPN server. From there, your traffic continues on to your desired destination – such as TheNewOil.org – like normal. ProtonVPN is a service headquartered in Switzerland and is part of Proton Technologies AG, the same company behind ProtonMail (also including in their suite of Drive, Contacts, and Calendar).

Why Do You Need VPN?

You may not, to be honest. A lot of people really hype VPNs as one of those absolutely, must-have, lifechanging things that will solve all your problems. In all honesty, while I do believe that VPNs are an essential piece of your privacy strategy, there many other free or low-cost strategies that will give you significantly more protection. A VPN these days pretty much only has two purposes: changing your IP address and protecting your traffic from local snoops. Changing your IP address is a valuable part of avoiding tracking, but it’s just one way and a VPN won’t protect you against those others like browser fingerprinting, tracking pixels, cookies, and more. Likewise, while it can be great to protect your traffic from your Internet Service Provider or a local cybercriminal, from a security perspective you’re already pretty well covered so long as you enable your browser’s HTTPS-Only mode and make sure you’re using the correct sites and not spoof sites. Having said all that, I do still consider a VPN to be a critical part of your privacy and security posture. It can bypass censorship, stop your ISP from selling your browsing data, help obscure your IP address from tracking and logging, and protect your traffic from local attackers.

Why Not Tor?

Some people prefer Tor over VPNs. Tor is definitely right in certain situations, but not all of them. For one, many essential services – like banks – block known Tor IP addresses to prevent fraud and abuse, making using those services nearly impossible. Second, Tor loses almost – if not – all of its anonymity once you login to something. If you login to your email and then your Reddit account in the same session, they’re now tied to together and you’ve lost your anonymity benefit. For this reason, I recommend reputable VPNs for any services that are tied to your real identity or sensitive and Tor for random searches or accounts that are not tied to your real identity.

The Good

ProtonVPN’s upsides are numerous. At the time of this writing, they boast 1,314 servers in 55 countries with various capabilities such as peer-to-peer, compatibility with streaming services, multi-hop, and even Tor-over-VPN. They offer connection speeds of up to 10 Gbps, a 30-day money-back guarantee, and a built in adblocker. They have open-source apps for all operating systems – Android, iOS, Debian, Mac, and Windows. They also have detailed documentation on how to install their VPN on a DD-WRT router, which is great as I whole-heartedly recommend those routers and putting a VPN on your whole network like that.

On the backend, ProtonVPN is located in Switzerland and insists that Swiss law prevents them ever keeping logs (but don’t get any ideas: they have admitted they will use real-time analysis to find people who abuse their service if they suspect you). They are also the only VPN provider I know of who offers a truly free tier that I would recommend for those who are tight on money. Last but not least, they’re the only provider I know of who allows me to change my protocol on the iOS app, allowing me to use both a VPN and a firewall at the same time. The value of that can’t be overstated, in my opinion.

The Bad

ProtonVPN is not perfect. For starters, their customer service is a bit slow unless you pay for Visionary. Not painfully slow, but like “get an email back in a day or two” slow. I’ve also been having issues with split tunneling on Windows lately and their ultimate solution was basically “VPN or Antivirus. Pick one.” Disappointing considering that those solve two completely different problems. That’s like asking me to pick between coffee and chocolate. Very different things.

Another general ding is that ProtonVPN could do better on the privacy front when it comes to user signup. While they do accept Bitcoin and cash, other services like Mullvad accept Monero. It would be nice to see Proton step up to their level.

I’ve also noticed that contrary to their claims of “up to 10 Gbps,” that’s not always the case. At the time of writing, I used Speedtest.net to test this. Without a VPN, I connected to the CA Department of Education in Sacremento, CA. I had a 0ms ping, 477.76 Mbps download speed, and 416.21 Mbps upload speed (attention ISP: that’s half the speeds I’m paying for. Go figure). After reconnecting using the “fastest” option, I was connected to Proton’s TX#27, which had a 45% load. This time, I was connected to Surfshark’s server in New York, NY. My ping stayed 0ms, but my download speed fell to 329.70 Mbps, though my upload actually improved to 491.95 Mbps. Despite technically being slower, the speeds have rarely been a negative impact in my life as I’m not a professional gamer or streamer of any kind. Even with my VPN on, I still manage to upload my raw, hour-long, 1080/30 footage of Surveillance Report to send to Techlore for editing in less than 15 mins most days (never more than 30, depends on how slow the server is that day).

Honestly I don’t have too many issues with ProtonVPN, but it is important to note that no product or service is perfect. These are just a few of the issues I’ve personally noticed.

Conclusion

Again, while VPNs are not the magical bulletproof unicorn that some people make them out to be, I do still think they have valid and essential uses. As far as VPNs go, Proton is a very solid choice. They have a solid track record and a variety of easy-to-use features that make them incredibly easy for even the most non-techy person to incorporate into their daily lives and get comfortable with it. In fact, when I asked my partner – the non-tech, non-privacy-centric person in the house – for her notes and thoughts on Proton (which she uses regularly), she didn’t have any. The only notes she came up with are that she likes that it automatically boots up with her computer on startup, and that it does slightly degrade the battery on her phone when it’s active but not enough to deter her from using it. If even the “I'm willing to do privacy as long as it's convenient” person has no bad things to say, I think that's a pretty powerful endorsement in my opinion.

You can learn more and sign up for ProtonVPN here, non-affiliate link here.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.

A few weeks ago, ProtonMail was forced to turn over the IP address and device information of a user to the Swiss government. A couple months ago, Wickr sold to Amazon. A few months before that, Signal integrated with cryptocurrency MobileCoin. Long before that, Wire moved to the US. So many services out there, none of them perfect, and all of them constantly evolving. How do you know which one to use? Better yet, how do you know when you should abandon one and move on to another after they make a major change?

Every time any critical piece of news comes out regarding a privacy tool, there’s always at least one person saying it’s time to jump ship and go to their competitor. So this week, I want to weigh in on when you really should switch services and replace one for another.

If the Service is Definitely Compromised

Let’s go ahead and get the obvious one out of the way: if a service is definitely compromised, you should jump ship. This begs the obvious question “what is definitely compromised?” Some people say that Signal is now compromised because of their MobileCoin integration. Others say Wire is compromised because of their relocation to the US. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about “is it unarguable?” For example, Anom is definitely compromised. There is no argument there. If there is 100% credible, unarguable proof that a service has been cracked, sold, or otherwise compromised, you should drop it. Simple as that.

If the Service is Arguably Compromised

Unfortunately, if you’re unsure of whether you should switch or not, that’s likely because it’s unclear if the service is truly compromised or to what extent. In my experience, 90% of the time this is just disinformation and sensationalism spread by YouTubers looking to make ad revenue and perpetuated by haters of the service in question who are either purist/extremists (“anything that isn’t self-hosted is a honeypot”) or loyal to a competitor (“this is why everyone should drop Signal for Session”). However, there is that 10%. In my experience, the 10% of legitimate concerns boil down to two categories: theoretical and unconfirmed.

Theoretical Compromise

Let’s look at the Signal/MobileCoin incident. While the incident was extremely poorly handled, it doesn’t indicate any kind of actual compromise in the integrity of Signal’s encryption or their data handling procedures. However, I think cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier summed it up best in his own blog post regarding the incident:

It’s that adding a cryptocurrency to an end-to-end encrypted app....invites all sorts of government investigative and regulatory meddling: by the IRS, the SEC, FinCEN, and probably the FBI.

In this case, the potential for regulatory meddling and government investigation opens up new avenues of abuse by governments that previously weren't feasible: for example, demands to log user data as in the name of “national security” or “fighting fraud” or some other facade. It offers new tools for the government to exploit that previously didn’t exist. Prior to Signal integrating with MobileCoin, demands to “Know Your Customer” wouldn’t have made any sense because Signal did not handle any financial data. Now those demands suddenly seem more likely. (Signal claims they still don’t handle any user financial data and that it’s all handled by MobileCoin and their own exchanges, but it’s not hard to imagine the government forcing Signal to also log user financial transaction data that can be correlated with MobileCoin's or their exchange's data to unmask the parties involved.)

More often than not, this is the reasoning behind why a service is suddenly “compromised” when it changes hands, teams up with other services, introduces new features, or relocates. When Wire moved to the US, this was the concern. When Wickr was purchased by Amazon, the concern is not that messages suddenly became readable, but that Amazon now had access to all the metadata. In some cases, there is precedent to some of these concerns (like how Facebook owns WhatsApp and admits to making extensive use of user metadata). In other cases there aren’t, but that doesn’t mean that some of these theoretical abuses aren’t possible and aren’t worth noting. A “theoretical” compromise is not necessarily a current compromise of the service or project itself, but rather the increased potential for a project to be come compromised that didn’t exist prior to the change introduced. It's important to be able to tell the difference between a legitimate theoretical abuse – like Schneier's concerns with regulation – and someone who just hates MobileCoin cause it's not Monero or whatever.

Unconfirmed Compromised

When I originally began writing this blog, I wanted to do a quick explanation of critical thinking, but I quickly realized that deserved an entire in-depth blog post itself. So if you haven’t read that yet, please take a few minutes to do so here. I will now assume you’ve read this post as it will be critical to this next section.

There’s an old meme that says “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” As fun as this meme is, there’s some truth to it. While our online anonymity has been largely stripped by governments and surveillance capitalism, for the average person it’s still alive and well. You have no way of knowing if the person you’re talking to is a world-renowned cybersecurity expert or if they’re a 12-year-old making things up. So when someone posts on Reddit and says “I have found cryptographic weaknesses in Matrix,” it can often be hard to know if they’re telling the truth, especially if the comment goes ignored or is hotly contested in the comments section. This is often compounded by the technical jargon of an explanation. Even the most low-level writing I’ve seen explaining various bugs and vulnerabilities typically has a few sections that leave me unsure if what I just read was actually English and just trusting the author that it made sense to someone. This can often lead to us walking around with questions about not only the validity of something, but also the severity of it. Not all threats are created equal. For example, the now-infamous Pegasus malware is a very serious and severe threat, but the nature of it means that it is often reserved for government targets like journalists, activists, and sometimes terrorists. It’s virtually impossible that the rando you pissed off on X-Box Live is going to hack your phone with Pegasus. Generally speaking, you should not be concerned about the risks of getting targeted with Pegasus. So then where does that leave us? Are iPhone unsafe because of Pegasus? Is Android any safer or harder to crack? Is Matrix’ encryption acceptable, or compromised? You can find no shortage of articles arguing both ways. This is when I think we must fall back on our critical thinking skills. Who is making this claim? What evidence are they offering? Can you confirm the person’s identity or claims? What are the risks if what they’re saying is true? What’s your threat model? Can you afford those risks? Is it worthwhile to switch just to be sure?

I think more often than not, a compromise you can’t confirm comes down to the reputation, feasibility, and risk. Signal is widely reputed by experts to be secure, even if those same experts have complaints with the company itself. A single person claiming to have cracked it, to me, doesn’t move the proverbial needle enough to outweigh the reputation of Signal. Likewise, I’ve seen posts that say “hey, do you think r/AskReddit questions are actually scammers attempting to learn information for their scams?” The feasibility isn’t there: too much work to verify people, match up information, record it all individually, etc. There’s easier, more feasible ways to steal user data for scams. Last but not least: risk. Is the Matrix protocol cracked? Maybe. But I’ve got some of my friends using it who would otherwise not be using any kind of encryption, and all we really talk about is sharing memes and music videos. The risk level is low, and even if Matrix is cracked we’re not using it to send passwords or credit card numbers. (I know that one is kind of a variation of “nothing to hide,” but I think of it more as “lesser of two evils.”)

Note: Threat Modeling and Compromise

It's worth remembering that your threat model also determines the extent to which a theoretical or unconfirmed compromise matters. Let’s take Wire for example: Wire moved to the US to have more funding opportunities. The US is a five-eyes country, which means that Wire is likely now more vulnerable to court orders and other US data collection policies. If your goal is simply to protect your SMS messages from your cell carrier and avoid giving out your phone number, Wire is still a solid choice. They log very little metadata and their encryption is still considered secure. But if you’re a whistleblower, Wire may not be the best choice for you anymore because they are beholden to one of the most powerful and invasive governments on Earth. You may wish to look into other choices like Threema or self-hosting an XMPP server. As always, you are free (and I encourage you) to go above and beyond, but it’s important to know what your threat model demands so you don’t neglect important areas or negatively impact yourself by trying to do more than you need to. I mentioned that some of my friends use Matrix earlier. If Matrix is cracked, none of our conversations are sensitive enough to be at risk. It's not worth the threat model of trying to move them all to something unarguably secure, like a self-hosted XMPP server. Your situation may require that, though.

Conclusion

Sometimes it’s easy to know when to switch services, like when you find out you’ve been doing it wrong this whole time and there’s a better way to do it. Sometimes, it’s less obvious. But hopefully between this breakdown and the critical thinking blog I linked earlier, this post has helped you know when to make that decision. And of course, as I said before, I always encourage you to go as far as you can in your privacy journey. There’s no shame in saying “I want to switch cause I think this service/product does better and I want that better protection.” Just make sure that you’re not negatively impacting your life – emotionally, mentally, or relationally – and that you’re not doing it because of the latest sensationalist headlines.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.

With so much of our lives in the cloud these days, backups have become a low priority for many people, but not for us privacy/security minded folks. We know the risks of the cloud, and we value having control of our data. But this can come back to bite us when the unforeseen happens: a stolen, bricked, or otherwise inoperable device. For this reason, it’s important to make sure you have good backup habits in addition to your good privacy and security habits so your life doesn’t get turned upside down.

This post will focus specifically on examining the various services I suggest on my website, so be sure to check out the Backups page for more specific tips on how to develop good backup habits. (Side note, we have added a .org TLD, so you can find the exact same content on TheNewOil.org now!) This list will go in alphabetical order.

Cryptomator

Cryptomator is a popular choice in the privacy community because it gives you the same large amounts of free storage provided by mainstream cloud providers like Google Drive and Dropbox but with the benefit of zero-knowledge encryption. On the website, I talk about how to set up a Veracrypt container inside a mainstream cloud provider. Cryptomator is basically the same principle, but it handles the whole process for you. You set a password, and then it essentially creates an encrypted folder inside your cloud account. The advantage is that it takes all the heavy lifting out of your hands, though it does mean that you have to download an additional app onto each device where you want to use that account. As I say on the site, I discourage the use of mainstream cloud providers for many reasons, but if you have no choice this is a powerful option.

External Device

The classic, tried-and-true solution, I think an external drive is a great solution for everyone. I strictly use offline, external backups, but here’s my personal strategy to comply with the 3-2-1 rule: I have two external harddrives. My main one at home is 4TB and full disk encrypted. It contains every backup I’ve ever made. The second is a large thumb drive that is full disk encrypted and contains only the most recent backup (including copies of my passwords and scans of important documents like IDs and birth certificates). I keep this offsite, but since it’s encrypted I’m not really worried about it getting lost or stolen. I’ll simply buy another drive and keep doing it. I think for most people the ideal backup solution is probably an external drive and one of the other cloud solutions listed here.

Filen

Filen is, honestly, probably going to be the sweet spot for many people. Open source and zero-knowledge, Filen works like Dropbox or Google Drive: create an account, download the app, then it puts a folder on your device that you simply work out of. You can save files directly to that folder and work out of them in real-time. The interface is, admittedly, not the prettiest, but it works smoothly and offers 10 GB of storage for a free account, maxing out at 5 TB.

Nextcloud

Nextcloud is the golden standard for the privacy community. It’s the complete package: calendar, contacts, file storage, photo backup, countless community apps for every purpose you can imagine (my partner and I just downloaded the cookbook today), and even an E2EE messenger, meaning that not only your data but your actual metadata is controlled entirely on your server. Of course, there is one major drawback to Nextcloud: it’s entirely self-hosted. Either you have to invest the time and money into hosting it yourself, or you have to use a server you trust. As far as self-hosted services go, Nextcloud is definitely among the easiest I’ve used, but that doesn’t make it easy or feasibly for the average non-techy person. If you have experience with software, I encourage you to give Nextcloud a try. Otherwise, you may want to settle for one of the others on this list. Also keep in mind that if you self-host a Nextcloud server in your home, using that with an external harddrive does not satisfy the 3-2-1 requirements.

ProtonDrive

ProtonDrive is the latest up-and-comer in the encrypted cloud storage game. Honestly, they’re probably the weakest solution here in some ways: no free tier, no mobile app, web only, not open source, and only 5 GB of storage to start. However, what they lack in features currently they make up for in other ways. For starters, ProtonDrive is still in beta, which means there are likely more apps and features to come. They also have explicitly stated that the app will be open sourced once they move out of beta (I don’t understand why not now, but whatever). Not to mention that you’re getting a trusted, reputable behemoth like Proton on your side with this service, and with the paid ProtonDrive service you also get access to the suite that the company is building: contacts, email, VPN, and calendar. They are clearly striving to compete with Google for a user-friendly, managed cloud suite that handles all your needs. This is still in progress, but there is something to be said for having a well funded company handling all the nitty-gritty, leaving you free to not stress the technical details and simply enjoy the product. But until the product develops a bit more, this solution is probably honestly only best for those who wish to pay for the other features anyways. (On that note, if you’re considering using Proton products, consider signing up via my affiliate links: email and VPN.)

Conclusion

Thankfully, we live in a day and age where encrypted cloud storage solutions are becoming more and more plentiful. This list actually leaves off some other services I’ve heard of or used like Sync and Tresorit. There’s a wide variety of good choices out there, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. I encourage you to closely examine all of them and pick the one that best suits your needs. We live in a world of increasing digital reliance: we live online, with family and friends spread across the map, and that often requires us to share files or collaborate digitally. It’s important that we value this model and protect the information we share online with encrypted cloud services. I hope this list can help give you some starting points to investigate which of these tools and services is right for you and your situation.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.

I once read that experience can be defined as “That thing you get right after you needed it.” Likewise, my dad used to have a sign in the bathroom that read “If you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning.” I believe it’s very important to learn from others whenever possible, both the successes and failures. Why recreate the light bulb from scratch every time – complete with the failures – when someone already did it? It is with this mentality in mind that I thought I would take some time to look back at my early days of privacy and talk about some of my own successes and failures and things I wish I’d known or done differently.

I Wish I’d Been More Patient

I’m the kind of person that when I get a new obsession, I get really into it. My mother described my early years as “the child of phases.” I went through phases where I would only eat pancakes – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – wear cowboy boots, use a certain word at every opportunity, etc. I was notorious for latching onto something and running with it til the next thing came along. These days I tend to jump around less, but the intensity of my interests still remains. When I got into privacy, I jumped in headfirst, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I do wish I had paced myself a little better because many of the things I ended up doing, I ended up rolling back and costing myself money. For example, I deleted Steam – the popular gaming platform. Well, this came back to bite me when I decided that while I don’t consider myself a “gamer,” I do still play casually. That meant that all the games I had previously purchased from Steam, I had to purchase again when I decided to go back. Likewise, I ended up needing Facebook for a short time after deleting it, resulting in me signing back up – and having to give up real information so I could make an account again.

Now it should be noted that there is something to be said for both of those examples. Getting rid of Steam, while it meant paying for things twice in the end, was easily reversible, and likewise getting rid of Facebook once was the stepping stone that made it possible to do it twice (and for good the second time). Often I encourage readers if they’re unsure to just do it and you can always step back later if it proves to be too much. But the opposite is also true: you can start by deleting Facebook off your phone, and then after a week realizing “wow, I’m doing just fine without it, may as well go all the way and delete my account entirely.”

I Wish I’d Done More Research

When you first get into privacy and security, you’re probably following the lead of one person. This may be because you don’t know any other resources (which is why I list other resources on my site), or it may be because that person resonates with you and explains stuff in a way you can understand. But this is dangerous. There is no one-size-fits-all privacy/security solution. If there was, there wouldn’t be dozens of products in the same space. (That’s also why my site is organized in “pro/con” format.) On the other hand, in many privacy forums and chat rooms you’ll find no shortage of opinions and while some of them may be valid and fact-based, many of them are still just that – opinions. While I’m fortunate enough to have developed good critical thinking skills that have helped guide me in the right direction, I still wish I had taken more time to evaluate different services myself rather than relying on popular opinion. It took me far longer than I care to admit to realize that all services come with a privacy policy and that’s a good place for me to start vetting things on my own. Or to use the search function (including open web searches) to find more information about a service’s history. Again, I was fortunate enough to not fall for any major misteps, but I could’ve done better if I had taken more time to think for myself and evaluate things on my own instead of taking them at face value because of popular consensus or what my own intro-to-privacy guru thought.

I Wish I’d Been More Fearless

This one kind of runs counter to the first one, but not really. I understand – and suffer from – the fact that life is busy and there’s more to life than just privacy or security. Bills have to get paid, the day job has to be paid attention to, there’s social obligations and relationships, and other interests that also typically cost time or money. But in almost every situation where I put off something because of the time and/or money involved, I end up wishing I’d done it sooner. For example: once I FINALLY pulled the trigger and bought a DD-WRT router, that meant I could start experimenting with it sooner and finding a privacy-oriented solution that works. Now, I can rest easy knowing my network is extra secure. Or similarly: recently I came into possession of a PinePhone. After a few weeks of tinkering, I am beyond convinced that this is not a daily driver for me. Previously I had been on the fence – “maybe I can make it work… I’m not sure.” No, definitely not. And now I know I need to invest in another solution of some kind, but I still have a PinePhone to keep an eye on in case it develops further. The point is that more often than not, when I put things off it’s primarily justified due to fear of the unknown: “this will be a lot of work.” “I don’t know what I’m doing.” But more often than not, I end up finally implementing something and going “wow, how did I live without this before?” (Ironically, this is also the reply I often get when I convince people to switch to Bitwarden.) Again, this also varies. Sometimes I put things off because I’ve truly got other stuff to focus on and pay for. With privacy, there’s always more to do. It’s important to prioritize and take care of things correctly: the rent needs to be paid before I buy a Pixel for Calyx, and date night comes before the podcast – it’ll still be there waiting to be edited afterwards. But putting things off because I’m scared of the work or fear of failure, those have never been smart and I wish I’d been more willing to rise to the challenge because the sense of accomplishment and security I get from those can’t be understated.

Conclusion

When I set out to write this blog, I expected to have a laundry list of things I wished I'd done differently, but I quickly found I didn’t have many regrets. I think this is largely due to my critical thinking skills that I mentioned earlier, but also my social skills. I’ve written a blog post about this before, too. If you’re new to privacy, I hope this blog post is still helpful. Remember: do your research and don’t be afraid to take it slow in some areas or dive in deep in others. Just remember not to go too far to the point of hurting yourself or your relationships, and take it slow to avoid burnout. Privacy is a marathon, not a sprint.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.

In the past, I’ve talked about how privacy is a sliding scale, and that it’s possible to have some privacy without having maximum privacy and how that’s still an improvement over having little or no privacy. I’ve also talked in the past about some of the techniques I’ve used to make people around me care about privacy. But this week, I want to marry the two ideas and talk about how to recognize progress.

I have a coworker. Let’s call him Ed. Ed his in his early 40s, but honestly could pass for mid or late thirties. He’s got a wife and two kids that he adores. When Ed and I began working together, Ed was aware of privacy concerns but wasn’t really acting on it. He knew about the dangers of manipulation of social media, the fear of his kids growing up in a panopticon world, and the risks of public information from data breaches (especially as they pertained to his kids). That’s not to say that Ed is tech-savvy. He’s never self-hosted anything a day in his life or even so much as installed Linux. I think the most advanced thing he’s ever done was when he made a Windows virtual machine with my help so he could test out some Windows-only software for work (we use Macs at work). But he’s also not tech-illiterate.

You may or may not be surprised to know that in-person, I have a hard time shutting up about privacy. It takes a lot of restraint for me, which I fortunately have come to terms with, but even so I usually still sneak in snarky comments about Facebook or try to remind people that Amazon is evil from time to time. As such, it didn’t take long for Ed to learn about my interest in privacy, and as someone who’s passingly aware of these issues it was something he began to pick my brain about from time to time.

That was about two years ago. And the other day, it occurred to me how much Ed has changed in the time I’ve known him. When we first met, he was using a flip-phone for personal, non-privacy reasons. His first switch was to Bitwarden. For other unrelated personal reasons, he finally decided to get a smartphone recently. After consulting with me, he got a used iPhone. Almost immediately, he texted me to ask what sort of steps he should take to protect it for privacy. (Of course, I sent him this page). During one of our talks about privacy and technology, Ed asked me what browser he should be using. I told him Brave, maybe Snowhaze. Our most recent employee, who joined only a few months ago, was present for that conversation and has remarked several times recently how happy he is with Brave. He said he uses DuckDuckGo cause Brave Search is kind of slow sometimes and the other day he even lamented that his younger brother still uses Google Search in Brave. On desktop, I did get all of our department to willingly switch to Firefox with a the two add-ons I recommend. (I can’t afford to risk hardening Firefox or else things might break, which we can’t really have on the job).

Ed still has a long way to go. I haven’t managed to get him on Signal (or Matrix) or ProtonMail yet. He’s aware of both of them, we just haven’t had a slow day to really dig in at the office. I’m not sure if he’s started using two factor authentication. I’m also not sure if he’s frozen his kids’ credit yet, if I’ve ever talked to him about email masking, or any of that. But the other day, while at work, it occurred me to how proud I am of him and thankful I am that he’s come so far. You have no idea how many times I’ve banged my head against the wall to get people to just TRY literally anything other than Google Chrome. I’ve explained to so many people the risks of bad passwords and the benefits – even the peripheral benefits – of Bitwarden. I’ve even made my own Nextcloud server and offered it to family and friends, plus free tech support. Some people just can’t be bothered to actually take action no matter how hard I plead, try, or overexplain. But people like Ed – and our other new guy who switched to Brave that day – they’re a rare gem. I value those people so, so much because they’re receptive and they act on it. The more people like them who care, the more social pressure it creates for others to care. I think sometimes the reason I forget to bring up privacy stuff with Ed and push him to take the next step is because I’m so scared of pushing him too hard and undoing all that progress, even though I know at this point that’s quite unlikely.

Regardless of how often I (fail to) push Ed, the epiphany I had the other day made me realize that he’s made progress, and that should be appreciated. So many people pay lip service to privacy and security by saying that they worry about the world their kids are growing up in, or they’re scared of Big Tech’s manipulation, or identity theft, but then they continue to post every second of their lives on social media and reuse weak passwords. It’s rare to see someone who actually puts their money where their mouth is and finds time to make the changes, even if it’s slow and piece-by-piece. It’s people like that that give me hope.

It’s not uncommon for me to have people reach out to me and thank me for making The New Oil, Surveillance Report, this blog, or any of the other things I do that make privacy and security accessible to novices. I don’t do this for the thanks, but honestly it still feels good. It’s not about ego, it’s about knowing that I’m making a difference, and that I’m doing my part to make the world a little bit more private and secure each day. So to all the Eds out there – the people who are taking steps forward ( even slow baby steps), the people who are changing their ways to make their behavior match their values, and the people who act – thank you. I think the work is I do is important, but the steps you take are just as important. You give people like me hope, you keep us motivated to keep up the good fight, and you’re part of that change. I’m rooting for you. Don’t give up.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.

Why Do You Need Voice-over-IP?

Before we dig into the world of VoIP, I feel it’s important to remind my readers why I recommend it in the first place. The benefits, in my opinion, cannot be overstated. In no particular order, VoIP can be used to compartmentalize your life, set healthy work/life boundaries, protect yourself from spam calls and robotexts, and protect your overall privacy. For example: if you have a VoIP number you use for work, you can disable that number each night when you get off the clock. You can also use a VoIP number for dating or selling things online, which prevents you from being stalked or harassed by a weirdo if things go south. There is no reason I can think of not to use VoIP if it’s available in your country. But are there reasons not to use MySudo specifically?

What is MySudo?

MySudo is a VoIP app for iOS and Android that offers up to nine digital identities. I say “identities” because to say “phone numbers” is to discredit MySudo’s other features: an inbox, a web browser, and virtual cards.

The Good

I think the most obvious advantage of MySudo is the number of identities you can have. I believe most people could get away with three (depending on how many minutes you need): work, personal, other. But you could do work, personal. Signal, shopping, burners, really whatever your heart desires. I do personal, important stuff (banking, medical, etc), work, Signal, The New Oil, and a few others I won’t publicly disclose here. I also have a burner one that I change the number of every month.

When contacting other MySudo users, you get the advantages of group messaging, end-to-end encryption, self-destructing messages, and even video chat. With non-users, you get SMS and voice calling. You also have an email address for each identity that you can customize (ex, nbartram@sudomail.com) which are also E2EE for other MySudo users, and a web browser for each identity that claims to block third party ads and trackers. Each identity can also create masked virtual cards that you can use online to help prevent tracking and card theft. Unlike privacy.com, these cards are not linked to a single merchant but can be reused as many times as you want.

The Bad

I am biased toward MySudo. I personally use it in my daily life and depend on it very heavily, so much so that it’s probably the last thing actually holding me to a mainstream phone OS. Having said that, it’s not without drawbacks.

For starters, there’s that: the whole “dependency” thing. MySudo is only available for iOS and Android. Because of a dependence on Google for notifications, it won’t work on custom ROMs like Calyx or Graphene, which can be a challenge for those who wish to take their privacy to the max and truly get as Big Tech-free as possible. It’s also just an inconvenience for those who prefer to be as phone-free as possible in general. There’s a web app you can use on Desktop, but it has to be synced up manually each time you use it. Sure, I have most of my most important contacts on Signal, Matrix, or some other desktop-ready communication platform but I’m one of those people lucky enough to work a job that generally respects work/life balance. That means that when I get a late-night text, it’s usually kind of important, so I’d like to be able to have a desktop app where I can get this information in real time without depending on my phone.

There’s also the big issue of payment. There is a free tier, but it’s pretty useless. You can’t call or text non-Sudo users. Personally, I think most people can do just fine with SudoPro, which is $5/month ($50/year). This plan gives you 300 messages per month and 200 minutes per month with non-Sudo users, as well as 3 virtual cards and 3 identities. However, I am a firm believer that privacy should not be a luxury and should be available to all. Obviously services like MySudo are not cheap to run and must be paid for somehow, but it still makes me sad that the free level is so restrictive. I think the Pro level is pretty affordable, but I always want to be considerate of people who truly are that tight on money.

Two objective concerns: MySudo is only available in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and UK. Second, the virtual card feature costs money, too: 2.99% of the purchase price plus $0.31. Two personal concerns I’ve experienced that may or may not be unique to me: text messages can be slow to send and sometimes my phone rings then hangs up before I have a chance to answer.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that VoIP is not meant to a be a replacement for an end-to-end encrypted messenger. A lot of people bash on MySudo because it’s not open source or zero-knowledge, but that’s missing the point. What VoIP is meant to be is a way to compartmentalize your life and protect you against data breaches, stalkers, and set healthy boundaries in your own life. In that sense, I personally have found MySudo to more than meet my needs and exceed. Due to the price, messaging restrictions, and operating system restrictions it may not be for everyone but I strongly encourage those who still use a stock iOS or Android app to look into it. It’s a powerful tool and it may come in extremely handy to have in your arsenal.

You can learn more and download MySudo here.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.

You would think this goes without saying. Pedos are bad. Breathing is good. Water is wet. Yet here we are. Every week on Surveillance Report, we have a “politics” section. This is where we discuss privacy news directly related to politics: the Pegasus scandal, laws that were passed or proposed, or pretty much anything privacy and security related that involves a political official or decision. And yet, without fail, there’s always political opinions in the comments. “Capitalism is what made this possible, capitalism is bad.” “You’re not being tough enough on Trump for this decision, you’re placating the Alt Right.” This is a big problem with the community, and a major reason my Matrix room has a “no irrelevant politics” rule. So this week, I want to talk about why I personally choose to be apolitical on The New Oil, and why I believe privacy is a non-partisan issue.

Privacy is a human right (see Article 12). Period. Full stop. End of story. A human right, by definition, is a “moral principle” that is “commonly understood as [an] inalienable, fundamental right ‘to which a person is inherently entitled simply because they are a human being.” (Source) You don’t have to earn human rights, and they don’t change based on your skin color, country, preferred language, or what you had for breakfast that day. You can be an a**hole and still deserve human rights. We can disagree on who should be president or what the tax rate should be, but you still deserve human rights regardless of how much I think you’re wrong. That’s how human rights work. That’s it. End of blog. Go home.

Now, of course, there are certain rights that actually can be suspended depending on the context. For example, your right to freedom can be largely suspended if you’re a criminal. In the US convicted felons can’t vote or own guns despite both of those things being mandated in our Constitution. The right to free assembly and protest was temporarily suspended at the initial onset of the pandemic here in the US. This is a highly controversial subject, but it’s worth noting as we have this discussion: some rights can be revoked or suspended based on certain criteria.

The problem I’ve been encountering in the privacy community is that many of us seem to be wanting to drag irrelevant ideas into the privacy space. Now to be clear: I’m not telling you what to think or how to behave. Some of you may find this hard to believe, but I am an incredibly political person in my personal life. I vote in local elections, I read the news (lots of different news sources with lots of different biases), and I frequently engage in discussions with people from all across the political spectrum to understand why they think the way they do. But the fact is that even the people I dislike on the other side of the aisle deserve privacy. I may think that my mayor is a clown or that more than one of our past presidents deserves to be in prison for various things they’ve done, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that the people who voted for them don’t deserve privacy. And that’s why, as The New Oil, I choose to be apolitical. Because privacy doesn’t care how you voted.

Let me pause again for a second to say that personally, I don’t believe “apolitical” is a real thing. I think it’s a lie people tell themselves so they can avoid thinking about the hard and frustrating dilemmas facing us in the political arena, and I think anyone who truly lives an “apolitical” life is either in denial about how politics affects them or so privileged that they can minimize the effect to the point of ignoring it (or both). My move to be apolitical as The New Oil is, itself, a political statement. The statement that I hope I’m making is that privacy is for everyone regardless of your political affiliation. It is owed to Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party members, Libertarians, and Independents.

Having said that, there’s a time and a place. Politics is an unavoidable part of privacy because there are laws that either protect privacy or weaken it and may or may not give the average person control over their data. Those laws also get broken – both by corporations and the governments who pass those laws – and therefore there are punishments (that are usually weak, symbolic, and ineffective). That’s not even touching on things like cyberespionage, the ability to effectively crack down on cybercrime, the Five Eyes, and more. Politics plays an important role in privacy whether you like it or not and whether you care about politics or not. Whether you like the person who’s in office right now or absolutely hate them, sometimes they do good legal/privacy things and sometimes they do bad legal/privacy things and both the good and the bad deserve to be talked about.

This brings us back around to the beginning. Am I telling you not to talk about politics in privacy spaces? No. Well, keep it out of my room, but otherwise no. People are still people. I’ve said before that I have a lot of interests besides privacy. I’m super into scifi, true crime, video games, etc. The person you’re talking to on Matrix or Mastodon is still a human being, and just because they’re into privacy doesn’t mean that they can’t also be an intelligent, educated person who’s also interested in politics. Political conversations are important to have, and if you want to have them you should. The problem is that people seem to think that those of us on a pedestal – like me and Techlore and Michael Bazzell – should somehow also weigh in politically, that we should go on record to condemn or endorse certain politicians, but that’s not what privacy is about. Sure, we can – and do – say that a politician has done some good or bad things for privacy, but to take an unnecessary political stance alienates half of the humans who might watch or read our content – humans who deserve human rights like privacy.

This is about reaching people with a message they need. If I was more vocal about my political opinions on Surveillance Report or this blog, there would definitely be a lot of people who say “I don’t appreciate this guy always bashing on my political opinions, it bugs me too much and I’m done listening.” Again, just because I don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean they don’t deserve privacy. That person deserves privacy even if I don’t share their views. By taking a political stance, I’ve pushed away someone who might’ve otherwise heard about privacy and started valuing it and protecting it.

Being political also does a massive disservice to fairness. Recently on Surveillance Report, we talked about how Trump was attempting to use legal pressure to get the New York Times to reveal their sources in a certain story, but even after Trump left office the Biden administration continued the lawsuit for another three months. By taking a side and saying “well of course [Politician] was suing the news, it’s because he’s a piece of crap and he’s an enemy of democracy and freedom and privacy and blah blah blah,” I’m completely ignoring the fact that it’s not just [Politician] doing these things. It’s every president, both parties, and a large number of senators and representatives. Privacy is not a partisan issue. It’s under attack by every political side and nearly every politician, from local to federal laws. Back in the 1960s, the government was surveilling both the KKK and the civil rights movement. Privacy invasions don't take sides, why should I?

I didn’t plan for this blog to be a defense of my actions, but it seemed the best example. I don’t like using hypotheticals when concrete examples exist. The goal here was not to defend myself, the goal was to defend privacy. Privacy is truly non-partisan. And again, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk politics. People are allowed to have opinions and expertise about more than one thing. That also doesn’t mean I won’t talk about how laws and politicians are shaping privacy in the world today, cause that intersection certainly exists and needs to be discussed. What it does mean is you need to remember that privacy is for everyone, and sometimes there’s an appropriate time and place to just stick to that message. I personally have found in my own political experience that one-on-one, in-person conversations are the best kind of political discussions to have. Nobody feels attacked or ganged-up-on, it tends to be more civil and more intelligent, and frequently both sides – both myself and the person I’m talking to – tend to walk away going “oh, I learned something new” or “I hadn’t considered that opinion before.” Doesn’t mean you’ll change anyone’s mind, you should never go into a discussion attempting to change someone’s mind because that’s when it turns into a competition and that’s when people get heated and angry. When someone like me is blasting out privacy-specific information to hundreds or even thousands of people, that’s not the time for me to be injecting my personal political opinions. It’s too easy for someone to misconstrue what I meant and take it as an attack, or for the nuance of the discussion to be lost. It’s too one-sided, and it’s too easy for someone to go “oh, this is just another libtard/MAGA-head, no point in listening to what they have to say” even though what I have to say may actually be extremely relevant and important to them. There’s no use making things overly political when they don’t have to be. Because privacy is a human right, and human rights don’t care about your political leaning. Human rights are for all humans.

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