privacy

Secret US Spy Program Targeting Americans' Cellphones Revealed

Episode 1135

News broke this week of the U.S. Marshals Service program that's been ongoing since 2007 to gather information from Americans' cellphones. It uses small fixed-wing Cessnas equipped with 'dirtboxes' that imitate cell towers to get identifying information from citizens. According to those familiar with the program, these planes make regular flights and can scoop up data from tens of thousands of phones in densely populated areas. The program is meant to locate individuals under investigation and fugitives, but it collects information from all cellphones.

How can I prevent the NSA from snooping on me?

Episode 1135

David from Los Angeles, CA
NSA

David wants to talk about privacy of his cellphone. He's worried that Uncle Sam can snoop on him. Leo says that he has good reason to worry because government can get metadata from phone calls with a simple pen registry request that only costs $1.50 and doesn't require a warrant. Can Google Voice be a better option? Or encryption?

Leo says that behavior that gets the NSAs attention will motivate them to follow him more closely. The problem is, legislation like the Patriot Act encourages government to do whatever they can to live up to the spirit of "never again."

How can I keep my new computer secure online?

James from Newberry Park, CA

Episode 1133

James just bought a new computer and he's concerned that Microsoft Security Essentials won't be good enough. Leo says that Microsoft Security Essentials works just fine, but he will have to keep it updated and constantly patch Windows. If he's not patching Windows with updates, even Essentials won't be able to protect him completely. Other things he can do is:

Why do ATMs display my email address?

Episode 1128

Concerned Consumer from California
ATM

Concerned Consumer is worried about his email being shown while he's using an ATM. He says that's a violation of privacy. Leo says there's no reason to show his email, but it's not the worst thing in the world to happen. The bank really shouldn't display it, though. They can easily asterix out most of the address. It's a very easy fix and it shows that the bank doesn't care that much about privacy.

Is "bend gate" a real problem?

Episode 1121

Jessie from South Carolina
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus

Jessie says that bendgate reminds him of the HTC GFlex and it's hillarious that this is so much ado about nothing. Leo agrees, saying that this is the dark side of the internet to make folklore turn viral. And thanks to Consumer Reports who demystified the whole urban legend of Bendgate and showed that anytime you make millions of something, you're going to get a handful that are mistreated. The internet just amplifies that.

Does Facebook really have full access to my smartphone?

Mark from Anaheim, CA

Episode 1120

Leo says yes, this is true, but it isn't something to worry about. Both Apple and Android require that developers request permission to do things on the smartphone. Apps can request to have access to the phone dialer, texting, microphone and more. It does cause concerns among users primarily because they don't know why these apps are requesting such permissions. For example, in order to use Facebook Messenger to make a phone call or send out a text, the app needs access to the phone's operating system to do it. Otherwise the app won't have that functionality.

Celebrity Nude Data Breach Underscores Need for Second Factor Authentication

Episode 1116

With the breaking news that several celebrities who had their cloud accounts hacked and nude photos published on the internet, Leo says that this underscores the need for second factor authentication. Companies use secret questions so that you can answer them and get your password or reset it. But Leo says that people make the mistake of answering these questions truthfully. And for a celebrities, that's very easy to discover. Leo uses pneumonics and puts in bogus answers that only he knows and nobody can guess.

Microsoft Refuses to Turn Over Emails to Government

Episode 1114

Microsoft

Pending appeal, Microsoft has refused to turn over emails stored in Ireland to the US government. If Microsoft loses on appeal, it'll have to turn over the emails however. This is a scary thing because it could mean that the reach of the US courts extend beyond our shores, and around the world. In the view of Microsoft and many legal experts, federal authorities have no jurisdiction over data stored in a foreign country, and this would violate the sovereignty of Ireland.

Leo thinks that companies like Microsoft and Apple will see this as an opportunity to fight for user privacy.

Facebook Messenger Invades Privacy, Kills Battery Life

Episode 1108

Facebook Messenger

Leo decided to try out Facebook Messenger this week since Facebook has decided to force users to use it instead of the regular Facebook app for private messages. Leo says that not only does the app deplete your battery by constantly monitoring your activity and location, but you also can't turn off notifications on messages for longer than 8 hours in the app. As a result, Leo was more than happy to delete both the Messenger app and the Facebook app from his phone. He'll just continue to use Facebook on the desktop instead.