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Edward Snowden Picks His Favorite Security Tools

Dec 10, 2015, Categories: Blog

cyber-security Edward Joseph Snowden, the man who worked formerly as a CIA employee and a government contractor, shared his favorite five security tools he uses in order to protect his gadgets from being under surveillance and hacked. In an interview not too long ago, he discussed details about the five tools of choice for maintaining privacy and warding off malware infections. Let’s look at these in detail.

1. Tor

It’s a kind of a tool that enables users to keep their location a secret by changing Internet provider addresses. It provides various IP addresses from different parts of the globe and lets users appear to be from a different part of the world. It works much like a VPN, except that it is more secure. It resembles a “chain VPN” as it encrypts your data by the use of multiple nodes that are present in various parts of the globe and makes it almost impossible for you to be tracked by people, companies, and even countries.

However, Tor is not 100% safe against state-level targeting, but it proves to be a valuable and privacy-friendly tool for those who don’t like to be tracked, those who wish not to be bombarded by advertisers and journalists, and also those who wish to keep their data secure from others.

The NSA has labeled Tor as “the king of high-secure, low-latency Internet anonymity” with “no contenders to the throne in waiting.”

Tor is basically only a network but has several products such as a browser, built on it. The browser is a Firefox ESR fork that features various plug-ins that add a layer to security and privacy. SecureDrop is another Tor-based tool developed by Aaron Swartz and Kevin Poulsen that enables whistle blowers and media entities to exchange information safely. OnionShare is another tool that allows users to send files of any size securely.

Those keeping their locations anonymous should be on the lookout for a messenger currently being developed that hides the locations for people communicating and encrypts the data end-to-end with the use of OTR.

2. Signal

Initially launched as TextSecure and RedPhone for Android before being available for iOS, this is another one of Snowden’s favorite privacy tools which is basically an end-to-end encrypted messenger.

Signal is considered a state of the art tool for private communications due to its default end-to-end encryption, convenient usage, asynchronous capabilities that allow messages to be sent and received while offline, group end-to-end encryption, and call support that is encrypted. It is thought so because of the team of well accomplished cryptographers behind it.

The text encryption protocol used by Signal is widely used by Silent Circle and Whatsapp, but can have the encryption removed with ease without the knowledge of the users.

Being open source, it is hard for Signal to have any potential backdoors that can hide codes. Signal is available for iOS and Android, but is expecting to be out soon for Chrome.

3. OTR

OTR stands for Off the Record (do not confuse with Off The Record for Hangout). This has been a favorite of many due to its end-to-end encryption protocol. The encryption protocol for OTR has caused some huge problems for the NSA and law enforcement agencies as they remain unable to crack it.

OTR is very flexible and practical in terms of its design. It was developed to be a modular protocol that can integrate into various messengers on desktops and phones as a plug-in. It is ideal to be used with messengers that otherwise would have a low level of security and can be easily cracked.


TAILS stands for The Amnesic Incognito Live System. It is an operating system that was created with the sole idea of exchanging Internet traffic with the use of the Tor network. It can be easily booted from a USB drive, SD card, or even a DVD as it has a portable design. The DVD option can be used to enable a greater security level for the system as it restricts malware from persisting inside.

There is however a drawback to this: the malware might hide in the RAM until the user reboots. There is a huge disadvantage to that – bugs. Bugs are commonly found in software like TAILS. The only way to get rid of them is to run an update for the operating system or stay vulnerable at the mercy of those bugs. This also means burning one more DVD for every update.

This proves that TAILS is more of an ideal tool for use in extreme situations as malware cannot reside in the operating system. It is a perfect tool of use for those whistle blowers who work to expose the wrong doings of others while delivering documents to the media without being exposed or acknowledged.

5. Qubes OS

Qubes OS is a very secure operating system which is said to be perfect for use in daily life. It comes with a built-in option that can “Torify” traffic and is able to make virtual machines that are safe and secure for work, banking, and other personal activities. It also allows for disposable virtual machines that you can use just once to open files that might seem risky, and then wipe and clean from your system.

Qubes OS features a Whonix template that can be used as a virtual machine that is Torified. Fundamentally, it enables users to hide their activities from being tracked. It also allows for old virtual machines to be deleted and lets you use a new one whenever you like in order to keep everything more safe, secure, and free from being tracked.

Qubes comes with a major advantage, i.e. it can be used for more usual and day to day activities while being offered the protection against dangerous viruses, Trojans, or other malware infections.

We’ve discussed five tools that are widely used by Edward Snowden for protecting himself from being tracked and being infected by malware. The best part about these tools is that they are user-friendly and can be easily and conveniently used by anyone in order to protect their private information and keep themselves safe.



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