Security, Privacy, & Anonymity

There is a huge difference between staying secure, having privacy, and being anonymous. There are times these all go hand in hand, but there are a lot of times they diverge from one another by a lot. Here's an easy way to look at it. Security is meant to protect you against having your data accessed or stolen. Privacy is about keeping your data and activities private. Anonymity is what keeps your identity secret and keeps you untraceable.

An example of the divergence of the three aspects is the use of an antivirus suite. Let’s say you want to open a program on your computer, such as a game. The antivirus suite will scan the file before it opens to make sure it isn’t malicious. The way most modern AV works is to upload that sample to the cloud where it is checked for malicious behavior. If you’re using a Windows PC, you absolutely must use AV to prevent infection. Putting aside the telemetry on Windows, the use of AV makes you more secure, but lowers your anonymity and privacy.

Another example for AV software is the inspection of SSL traffic, which lets the AV look at the traffic. The issue is that without it, the AV can’t scan the web traffic to make sure you don’t download or visit something malicious. This again will add to your security by using it, but it takes away from your privacy and anonymity.

When a person wants to remain private, one example is they would need to take actions such as encrypting all their files before being backed up to the cloud. By doing so, no one else would be able to access those files. The cloud provider would be able to see the login details and billing information for that person, thereby they aren’t anonymous but would have extra security and privacy.

Being anonymous in today’s age is next to impossible, even if you have “perfect” OPSEC. Even then, if a person becomes the target of a nation state actor, they won’t be able to stay anonymous. There is an unbelievable amount of technology that governments have that can track a person. This isn’t meant to sound defeatist for someone wanting to be anonymous, but if you want to avoid the scrutiny of a government agency, it’s next to impossible once they are onto you. A good read that goes into a lot more detail about this topic is Permanent Record by Edward Snowden.

Some people will go as far as to use something like Tails or Whonix. While these are excellent tools, they aren’t going to be of much use for the average person and they will just add a lot of inconvenience. Even if you were to use one of these tools, think about all the other ways you can be tracked by a government or corporation. The purchases you make on your credit/debit card, the banks you use, the stores you shop at, the places you go to in public that are monitored with security cameras, the phone you use, and the list goes on and on.

There are small groups of people who have to take rigorous steps to protect themselves, i.e. journalists, but for the vast majority of people, there's no point in letting paranoia take your life over. There are sections in this website where you'll learn more about cutting down on some of the monitoring, but there isn’t a point in going crazy over this stuff. If you make sure your security and privacy is taken care of to even a moderate degree, then you'll be leagues ahead of most people.