As has been the case for the last several years, 2015 was a big year for Internet security and privacy issues. Since VPNs relate to both, it was also a big year for news related to VPNs and associated topics, including encryption and Tor.
Here are some of the biggest stories of 2015.
The FBI Blames Basically Everything on Encryption
Throughout the year, FBI director James B. Comey has been advocating that the tech industry make it easier for law enforcement to access encrypted data. The Obama administration eventually backed down on that demand, saying that deliberately weakening encryption would inevitably make it easier for terrorists, rival nations and criminals to exploit everyday people. Law enforcement did not take it well.
The FBI constantly hammered on the message that terrorists use encryption to hide their communications. Silicon Valley and privacy advocates aren’t buying it, however, despite the FBI and other law enforcement agencies using terms like “going dark” to propagandize the threat, and the necessity that all communication be accessible to them.
Australia Passes Metadata Gathering Laws
Australian Internet users lost some ground in the battle to protect themselves against government intrusions on their privacy.
This year, the Australian government passed data retention laws that mandate that metadata be collected and stored by ISPs and that law enforcement have access to them. The data collected includes Internet surfing activity, texts, emails, calls and other data. The data includes where you were when you used the service, the date and time, the duration of any communication and the means of transmission.
Critics called the measures “expensive, intrusive and ineffective.”
The Silk Road Ends in Jail for DEA Agent
The Silk Road investigation was rife with controversy and, it turns out, corruption.
Carl Force was one of the DEA agents tasked with bringing down Dread Pirate Roberts—real name Ross Ulbricht—and his site The Silk Road. The Silk Road, only available on Tor, was a notorious destination well known for serving as a marketplace for illegal drugs and other black market goods and services.
Force was playing both sides in the case, offering Ulbricht counterintelligence about the DEA investigation into The Silk Road. His other crimes included stealing Bitcoins to the tune of $370,000.
Force ended up getting seventy-eight months in prison for his crimes. Ulbricht, of course, got life.
Poor Security Practices Compromise Encryption
It’s possible that trillions of encrypted communications have been cracked. This year, multiple sources revealed that the implementation of the Diffie-Hellman key exchange was sloppy, resulting in a security hole that could allow the NSA to break through supposedly secure communications.
The vulnerability was revealed by two scientists in a paper they presented at the ACM Conference of Computer and Communications Security. They found what they believe to be the vulnerability that allowed the NSA to break encryption on a vast number of communications.
The security flaw, according to the theory, came about because very few of the large prime numbers used to provide security were employed, allowing the NSA to break the encryption on messages and other encrypted traffic.
Fortunately, better implementations of Diffie-Hellman can remedy the issue.
Microsoft Unleashes Windows 10
Windows 10 came out in July of this year. For users who were still fuming over the interface changes that defined Windows 8, seeing the Start menu back at the lower left of the screen was certainly comforting.
Beyond that, however, there was a lot to be worried about with Windows 10.
Security and privacy issues with the OS have raised hackles worldwide. The operating system defaults to tracking your location, works very hard to integrate you into Microsoft’s other products and comes with plenty of bloatware installed. Fixing all of this takes time and effort. Even after you’re done with that, you’ll still be forced to send telemetry data back to Microsoft, like it or not.
Snowden Tweets, Trolls the NSA
Edward Snowden, he who so famously outed the NSA for spying on basically everyone, got on Twitter in September of this year.
Snowden, whatever else he might be, certainly has a sense of humor. He only follows the official NSA account on Twitter. He kicked off his Twitter feed with “Can you hear me now?” Of course, that was likely a shot at both the NSA and Verizon, a company known to be very friendly to NSA spying requests.
You can follow Snowden at @Snowden.
NSA Shuts Down Bulk Phone Data Collection
Congress passed the USA Freedom Act in June of 2015. The Act contained provisions that required the NSA to shut down its bulk collection of phone data.
The spy agency was given six months to affect the shut down and, at the end of November, it reportedly went offline.
Critics still maintain that the bill as passed is not as much a victory for privacy and freedom as politicians have taken to claiming. It doesn’t address many of the surveillance powers that citizens find most objectionable and doesn’t make significant changes to transparency or disclosure requirements related to NSA spying.
Nonetheless, it was something of a victory and the first one against the NSA in a long while.
VPNReviewz Gets a New Look
Last but not least, VPNReviewz has updated its look to make it easier for all of you to find what you need.
We’ve added several different usage categories for VPNs. Since they’re becoming very popular with everyday users, it made sense to let people know which companies and products are best for specific uses.
We hope you enjoy the new layout. It should be much easier for you to find the information you need and to get a VPN service or a SmartDNS service that suits your purposes.
What to Watch For in 2016
Given the flow of history over the last decade or more, watch out for more controversies surrounding privacy, encryption, copyright issues and beyond. We’ll continue to cover them for you and provide you with reliable reviews of the companies that offer you a way to stay secure when you’re online!