What is the best way you know to protect yourself against Identity Theft and Hackers?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a tool that protects your privacy by making you appear “anonymous” whenever you use the Internet.

Have you heard of the NSA (National Security Agency) “spying scandal”? The following report says the US government actively monitors and records all telephone calls and all Internet use by its citizens.

According to the above report, Verizon (a phone company with 98.9 million customers) was ordered to turn over all its call records to the NSA. That order was “untargeted”, meaning the NSA can spy on all calls without even suspecting anyone of wrongdoing.

It appears the US govt can now spy on all its citizens by monitoring and recording every phone call they make and everything they do on the net. Worse that that, it seems they are now making full use of that power. The above link contains the details.

Is there anything you can do to protect yourself against this kind of invasion of privacy? Yes. Recently, there’s been a sharp increase in the use of VPNs. Do you use one? A VPN is a tool that protects you against hackers and other agencies that try to invade your privacy. It does that by making you appear anonymous when you use the net. Here’s a link that explains what VPNs are and why people use them:

The following is my attempt to summarize what VPNs are and how they work:

A VPN provides you with protection from identity theft, invasion of privacy awa any site to which you connect. It does this by making you appear anonymous. No one can spy on you because no one can determine your true identity or what you send and receive when using the net. VPNs have been around for a while. But there has been a recent increase in their use because governments are now recording what people do on the net. This includes all emails, all instant messages and everything else you do when you use the Internet.

A VPN is a tool you can license for about $35 yearly or $6 monthly. It acts as an intermediary between your PC and any website to which you connect. It encodes all traffic flowing between your PC and that site. It replaces your IP address with one of its own. This provides two big benefits. First, no one can determine your true identity. Second, no one can tell what you do while using the net. I bought one and it was very simple to install and use. It works all the time. Whenever I restart my PC, my VPN also restarts automatically. After a while, you forget it’s even running. It never nags you to do anything or buy anything.

Personally, I now feel very much safer using the net. The rules of this forum don’t allow me to recommend any specific VPN to you. But, you can always search for “best VPN providers” and choose your own.

IMO, it has now become pretty much essential for anyone using the net to also use a VPN. Recently, more and more agencies have been hacking and spying on people when they use the net. The first major incident I know of was the NSA spying scandal and the above report claims the US govt now actively monitors and records all phone calls and all net usage by its citizens. The USA is not the only govt doing this. Many others also do it and many arrest its citizens for breaking laws that Americans would likely consider very harsh.

No one may ever be able to control the Internet. But what does that matter if govts can spy on everyone using it? For that reason, I think it’s essential for anyone who uses the net to protect their privacy by appearing anonymous to anyone who would watch. It costs about $35 yearly to buy a VPN license and IMO, it’s one of the best and most important tools you can use when using the net - one of the very best things you can do to protect yourself.

I love my VPN. Every time I start my PC, I feel like I’m telling “Big Brother” to “stuff it”. You don’t have to take my word for any of this. You can check the above links for yourself.

I want to tell you the reason I’m writing this is because I believe it’s something with the potential to save you huge problems and if only one you decides to protect yourself with a VPN, I will be happy.

FYI, the movie Citizenfour (2014) is about the NSA spying scandal. It won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2015 and it’s a great way to understand these issues. It is rated at 8.1 on IMDB - extremely high rating.

By the way, do you use Firefox as your Internet browser? If so, there is a capability you can use to enhance your privacy and security. This feature is called “Private Browsing” and the following link describes how it works. If you use some other browser, you will have to find out what the equivalent feature is called in your browser:

https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/private-browsing-use-firefox-without-history

Private Browsing includes Tracking Protection, which prevents companies from tracking your browsing history across multiple sites. To learn more about Private Browsing with Tracking Protection in Firefox, see Tracking Protection in Private Browsing.

You might also like to learn about Cookies and how they are used. Most browsers enable you to control the use of cookies which is another facility that will enhance your privacy and security.

:confused: You appear to be describing a firewall, not a VPN.

VPNs are for connecting two bits of your own network together via a public network - for example, two different office LANs or similar.

That is certainly one use for VPNs.

However, I should explain that it took me several days to write that post. I had to borrow heavily from existing articles and so when you say, “You appear to be describing a firewall, not a VPN”, my reaction is to say that I did not describe that from my own knowledge. I had to read several news reports and other articles and so in almost all cases, the information I presented was information I obtained from the sites to which I linked.

If you are knowledgeable about VPNs, I sure would be happy if you would like to contribute any info that you can.

I can assure however, that from my own personal experience, VPNs most definitely provide protection from some very serious potential problems. I know because I suffered one of those problems myself and I went to a great deal of time and trouble to find that it was a VPN that would protect me.

The work I did on the above post was very small compared to the work I had to do to find out about VPNs.

I figured the least I could do was to pass along what I had learned so that it could save other people here from having to spend the same amount of time and money to protect themselves.

I spent a great deal of money to hire a private contractor who is indeed an expert in this area.

My motive in posting this thread was to prevent the other members of TSDMB from having to go through a similar trauma.

Thank you for your input. I hope you’ll stick around and help answer any other questions that other members here might have.

In summary, the product that I purchased is def called a VPN. I can’t post the name here in this thread because that would be a form of “advertising” and this forum does not allow people to recommend or advertise specific products. But the product is most def a VPN.

The following is a link to the Wikipedia description of a Firewall.

From what I can determine the big difference between a Firewall and a VPN is that a Firewall prevents information from passing through from your browser to some external site and vice versa.

My VPN allows the info to go through however, it is encoded so that no one can determine just what it is and there is a substitution of the IP address. Instead of using my real IP address (which identifies me), the VPN substitutes one of its own IP addresses instead and so no one can then determine my true identity.

Companies which sell VPNs typically have somewhere between 25 and 50 different IP addresses all over the world and so anyone who comes calling to enquire who a specific IP address belongs to will learn that it belongs to the VPN company. They will never learn it was a substitution for my IP address.

To the best of my understanding, that is the one big difference between a Firewall and a VPN.

Did you read the article you quoted? It says that Verizon turned over its call records. How does that imply that the NSA can spy on all calls? And the article also says, “Under the order, the NSA only gains access to the “metadata” around calls – when they were made, what numbers they were made to, where they were made from and how long the calls lasted.”

And there’s the fact that the article is about 2 1/2 years old.

Yes. The article is 2 1/2 years old. Do you know of any articles that are more current? If you do, please post a link to them.

Did you read where it said, “The NSA access was enabled by changes to US surveillance law introduced under President George Bush and renewed under Obama in December 2012.”

The fact that the NSA access was renewed at least once by President Obama suggests that it could be renewed again. But there is no suggestion that it cannot be renewed again. Nowhere does it say there were any limits placed on its ability to be renewed. Nowhere does it say there were any time limits placed on its renewal.

Do you know of any limits? If you do, please share them and post a link to them.

That law could be renewed over and over again. But nowhere does it say there was any limit or restriction on it being renewed to stop its renewal. The implication is that it could still be happening and there is no reference to the fact that it was stopped or that there was any mechanism in place to stop it.

Has there been some event that implies there is no longer any danger of terrorist attacks? That would be one reason why it this surveillance law might be rescinded. But that hasn’t happened. As a matter of fact, events have been quite to the contrary. Do you know when the terrorist attack occurred in San Bernardino?

Here is a link to the December 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

I’m guessing that you likely know about this attack? Do you in fact know about it?

The fact that terrorist attacks like this are still happening suggests to me there is some reason to renew the surveillance laws but no reason to limit their renewal.

Can you point to any evidence that suggests that law has some basis for being rescinded or repealed? If so, by all means, please let’s see it.

The following is a link to a more current article. It is less than 2 years old.

https://www.propublica.org/special/no-warrant-no-problem-how-the-government-can-still-get-your-digital-data

Propublica is a well known organization that is involved in many of the PBS documenatry programs. As far as I know they are a highly reputable organization.

The article is titled, “No Warrant, No Problem: How the Government Can Get Your Digital Data”.

The article states that police can get phone records without a warrant.

Here is a small excerpt:

How They Get It - Who You Called, When You Called

Listening to your phone calls without a judge’s warrant is illegal if you’re a U.S. citizen.

But police don’t need a warrant - which requires showing “probable cause” of a crime - to monitor the numbers for incoming and outgoing calls in real time, as well as the duration of the calls.

Instead, they can get a court to sign off on an order that only requires the data they’re after is “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation”— a lesser standard of evidence.

The government can also get historical phone records with an administrative subpoena, which doesn’t require a judge’s approval.

A VPN is a way of joining two networks together securely; it may be that you have bought a thing that allows you to join your own network to the network of the VPN provider, and route your actual internet traffic in and out through their internet connection (presumably anonymising it or some such in the process).

If that’s what you’ve got, then whether or not it is more secure depends significantly on the trustworthiness of the service provider (that is, whoever is running the other VPN endpoint). It’s entirely possible for such a thing to be the worst and least secure thing you could possibly do (if, for example, the service itself is being provided by a rogue supplier)

Do you trust them? Do you have sound reason to?

This sounds very possible to me.

Yes I do trust them because they are the national leader in the production of VPNs and they are recommended by the most trustworthy site I know. I will send you the details in a PM.

Charlie, go ahead and protect your data in any way you want, but let’s get this clear. The NSA is not receiving the content of millions of phone calls to or from Americans. You’re quite simply not reading your cites.

Until last year, Congress did authorize the NSA to collect call records after a special court reviewed the NSA’s requests. Who was calling whom, from what number, etc., and these call records contained untold millions of records of phone calls that involved Americans - but not the contents of the phone calls.

This all changed last year when the USA Freedom Act passed. Now instead of the NSA collecting the records of hundreds of millions of phone calls, it can no longer collect that data in bulk. Instead, if the NSA wants to know who is calling whom, it must get a court order from a judge to obtain more specific records from the telcos, which are now the sole repository of the data.

I urge you to read the linked Wikipedia article and ask questions if you have any. But asserting multiple times that the NSA was actually listening to the phone calls of most Americans is simply a total misunderstanding of the very cites you’ve provided.

You know those wallets that prevent people from reading the RFID chips on your credit cards? I hear you can get a whole suit made of that material. That’s probably your best bet. They might even be able to swing a faux seersucker for you.

OK. Thank you for the correction. I should have probably not even mentioned phone calls since they are a minor concern (at least to me) compared to the data that passes between my Internet browser and any site to which I connect.

I read the news story and I saw that Verizon had to turn over all those records and I guess I may have reacted very strongly to that. So, I thank you for correcting me.

I would like to ask you your opinion on how you safeguard your Internet usage and prevent people from hacking your Internet usage. Specifically, how do you prevent Identity Theft?

I have no idea which company you’re referring to, but how do you know that it’s not just a front for the NSA?

Ravenman,

By the way, I would like to thank you for telling me I was wrong in such an even tempered and adult way. You could have given me a real hard time and I thank you for behaving in such a courteous manner.

I use a password manager, change my passwords on a fairly regular schedule, and don’t buy stuff on the Internet from places I don’t recognize, for the most part. I don’t take any extraordinary measures. I figure my chances of having my identity stolen due to having shopped at Home Depot and Target are a million times higher than someone tracking my online activity. For that matter, I still use cash when I buy coffee and stuff.

When you speak of shopping at Home Depot and Target, are you referring to buying something in person? Or over the Internet?

If you’re referring to shopping in person, do you think the problem is someone looking over your shoulder and stealing your credit or debit card PIN?

If your VPN provider keeps logs, then those logs can be subpoenaed, just like phone records.

That is a very perceptive thought and I think you must have a very sharp mind to have reached that conclusion.

I’d like to suggest we have a little fun here and see if you can guess just what the answer is.

If they did indeed keep the kind of logs that contained the true identity of all their customers as well as all the places their customers visited and records of what they did at those sites, then you would be correct and if they were legally served a subpoena, they would indeed have to turn over those records. I really don’t think they need to keep all that info, in fact. But let’s assume they do.

If that is true, their product and service would be pretty much worthless. Wouldn’t it? I know you realized that because of the post you made.

So, just for fun, I’d like to see if you can guess what they do about that. If they don’t make it real clear right from the start how they handle that, people would not buy their product. So, they need to have a way around that and they need to specify that info prominently in all their advertisements.

Can you guess how they handle that? I’m betting that you can. I will wait 24 hours to see if you can guess how that’s done and then I will tell you the answer.

I hope you won’t mind. I’m guessing you are bright enough to figure this out. If you don’t want to play this game, just say so and I’ll tell you the answer.

I will give you one hint in a spoiler box. You can look at it if you like. But, I don’t think you will need to though.

The key is the word “legally”.

P.S. if anyone else would like to suggest an answer, please put it into a spoiler box?

I hope you don’t mind if I want to try to have a little fun?

By the way, if you search for “best vpn providers”, you will see a number of sites and some of them explain just how a VPN works as well as many of its features.

Some of its features explain just why VPNs are so useful and so vital. I wish that I would have included a link to some of these sites right at the beginning of my OP. Oh well. I hope some of you will go ahead and examine some of these sites. They explain things much better than I ever did.