Recently, President Barack Obama changed how the NSA collects and stores Americans' data. These changes involved limiting the NSA's storage of phone data -- potentially including who you're calling and texting, or how you're using your cellular data plan. The truth is, this should not assuage our fears; if the NSA needs it, your unencrypted data will be theirs and we're still more than two months from any actual reform. Between now and then, every smartphone (and computer) owner should reconsider their phone and data habits.
Worse still, the government has failed to rule on other potential privacy invasions, such as those posed by data brokers. These companies make their money selling 'background reports' compiled by scanning public social networks and buying mailing lists, as well as searching the public web for your information.
Here’s what you can do in the next 15 minutes to boost your own cybersecurity and get ahead of the legislative curve:
1. Privatize Yourself
As revealed by a Digital Trends piece last year, Facebook works with the three largest data brokers: Datalogix, Epsilon, and Acxiom. Any information you divulge on Facebook, Twitter or any other public social network is fair game. And if your public profile is filled with personal information, anyone can access it by paying $25 for an all-you-can-eat 'people search' service.
Get everything that's on the web about you -- even in innocuous places like press releases or tweets -- deleted. Consider engaging with your friends on private one-to-one social networks like SnapChat and WhatsApp, instead of Facebook. If you want truly encrypted and secure communication, check out apps like Wickr, SilentCircle, and CellCrypt.
2. Privatize Your Data
It's hard to visualize how much data you're sending/receiving at any given moment in IMs, emails, texts, and social media, thus it's hard to protect yourself quickly and efficiently. My company AnchorFree provides one of many simple cybersecurity tools called Hotspot Shield, available for mobile and desktop devices. This tool encrypts your data, which means nobody can snoop on your connection using packet sniffers like FireSheep. It also stops third-party trackers from inspecting the sites you visit and your online communications.
3. It's Obvious, But Use An Antivirus
It used to be that only people who made mistakes online (IE: visiting suspicious sites and opening files you shouldn't open) contracted viruses. This is hardly the case anymore -- threats have become more sophisticated. I'd recommend using the tried and true Norton by Symantec or AVG to remove them.
4. Opt-Out Everywhere
Legally speaking, data brokers have to remove your data upon request. For example, Spokeo has a fairly in-depth explanation of how to 'opt out' of their system. This will remove you from any searches. And PeopleFinders even has a specific page. It's worth taking the time to do your homework, as anyone with a credit card and time could dig up your personal info.