The Fbi’s Data Breach and How You Can Protect Your Privacy

Between social media posts and unencrypted emails, our information has never been more “out there,” thinly protected and awaiting attack. So who, exactly, is seeing that 2 am Direct Message on Instagram?

It was recently revealed that the FBI searched emails, texts, and other electronic communications of approximately 3.4 million Americans without a warrant over the past year.

This news serves as a warning cry for many Americans who want to do a better job of keeping their data private.

What Was the FBI Looking For?

The FBI “queries” were made between December 2020 and November 2021. While the FBI looking into emails and texts can feel invasive and unsettling, nothing they did was illegal. In fact, all of their actions were protected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Although they didn’t break any laws, many Americans are afraid of the implications this data search will have on our privacy going forward.

“The FBI searching of emails without a proper warrant demonstrates the breakdown in the U.S. Constitution and the circumvention of the protections and guarantees of the Fourth Amendment,” says David Reischer, an attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com.

“The Fourth Amendment restricts what the government can do,” he told Wealth of Geeks, “but some of the larger threats to individual privacy are the vast quantities of data collected by ever more powerful private companies that are then sold on the open market.”

The FBI conducted their searches to uncover foreign cyberattacks that might otherwise compromise the country. This news comes after private companies like Microsoft helped Ukraine protect themselves against cyberattacks from Russia.

The software company detected a malicious type of malware called FoxBlade. Cyberattacks pose a threat to national security, but how far is too far for the FBI?

What’s also concerning is the increase in searches compared to last year. “Though the activity may not have been illegal, the massive jump from 1.3 million of these searches in 2020 to 3.4 million is alarming,” says James Diel, the founder, and CEO of Textel.

A jump of almost 300% could mean that future government searches will only increase. However, Diel concedes that “while it is difficult to protect our data from the FBI, we can put pressure on local politicians to fight for our rights to data privacy and protection.”

The ACLU was quick to respond. “Today’s report sheds light on the extent of these unconstitutional ‘backdoor searches’ and underscores the urgency of the problem,” says Ashley Gorski, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

How Can We Stay Protected?

Any legal or legislative action that occurs due to this FBI search will take time, but there are certain steps you can take to protect your privacy today.

Jonathan Brodsky, CEO of live-streaming social media app YouNow talked to Wealth of Geeks about steps to take to protect your privacy in our increasingly digital world.

“Use a browser that clears cookies and doesn’t save your history,” he says. “I prefer to have a browser setup for this rather than browsing in incognito mode.”

He also advises using a VPN – or a Virtual Private Network – and rotating it regularly. A VPN makes it harder for third-party sites to track you because it encrypts your movements and disguises your identity by hiding your IP address.

His last piece of advice might be hard for some people to put into action. Even Jonathan admits it is hard. “Use messaging services that encrypt everything,” he explains, “this means ditching iMessage or your SMS app on Android.”

His new app offers some protections as well. “On YouNow we delete your information from the service and make it so that the information about you ceases to exist,” says Jonathan.

Encrypt, Encrypt, Encrypt

For Ashley Simmons, founder of avoidthehack, secure encryption is key to protecting you and your data. “A lot of standard ways of today’s communication are wide-open for many eyes to see if they choose to eavesdrop,” says Ashley. The communication she references includes SMS text and traditional email providers.

“Don’t use Gmail,” she cautions. “Their privacy policies are atrocious and privacy invasive.” Instead of Gmail, Ashley recommends ProtonMail, Tutanota, and Startmail.

In addition to using encrypted messaging apps, she also recommends encrypting your drives. “If someone has physical possession of your computer, they could just remove the drive and proceed to gain access to its contents, regardless if you have a passcode.”

She also cautions against posting on social media. “It’s important to realize that anything you post on social media can be used against you,” she says.

Who Is the Real Threat?

There isn’t much an average American can do with protections in place to support the FBI’s recent “queries.” Still, privacy strategists like Jonathan and Ashley offer solutions to an individual’s privacy problem.

Jonathan isn’t so worried about what the FBI did. “Let’s be real: most of us aren’t doing illegal stuff and aren’t running a risk of the FBI arresting us.” Instead, he sees a different enemy in the digital darkness. “I’m far more concerned with corporate espionage,” he says.

Wherever these cyber threats come from, it will become increasingly important for individuals to protect themselves from digital invasion and attack.

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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Credit: Pexels.

 


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Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.