How to break out of PRISM

NSA scandal has exploded fears of being watched on the Internet, but a new website lists ways to escape the Panopticon

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Decentralized distributed systems

That switch to distributed systems is the second approach these systems take to privacy. It seems likely that PRISM works either by penetrating the servers of large providers or (more likely) by capturing and duplicating packet streams directed at those servers. Distributed systems with no central server are much harder to tap into. For example, the list includes Diaspora, a distributed alternative to Facebook that allows each user to choose whether to self-host their information or to trust one of many providers in the large community of servers. OwnCloud offers self-hosted cloud storage and calendaring; SparkleShare offers self-hosted file storage using Git as a medium.

At a more technically complex level, the clear and under-recognized Tahoe-LAFS offers an extremely resilient, distributed, cloud-based storage system that can be hosted on shared storage without exposing the data to inspection. There are plenty of other distributed systems on the list, giving hope to those of us who were beginning to worry that the only way was Amazon or Google, complete with the suspicion that secret interpretations of almost-secret laws are allowing officials to spy on all we do.

Obfuscate your access

The third important approach on the list is obfuscation, epitomized by The Onion Router (TOR), a network service that allows anonymized access to the Internet. It works by letting you proxy your connections through a large number of entry points into TOR, where your connection is then passed from hand to hand by many different servers, each with no knowledge of the route of the message before and after they see it. To those trying to track your Internet access, it's as if a thousand servers are crying "I'm Spartacus!," leaving watchers with a huge tracking task.

PRISM Break's list is fascinating. There's sure to be something you haven't seen before, including a full roster of open source solutions that deserve your attention. Whether you simply end up installing a browser plug-in like HTTPS Everywhere -- or go to the extreme of redesigning all your cloud and communications to use distributed, encrypted, and obfuscated services -- PRISM Break is an education.

Most important, it shows we are not helpless. Acting together with an open source community approach, ordinary people all over the world can take responsibility for their own Internet safety and privacy, thus avoiding surrender to Big Brother, as well as big, corporate services.

This article, "How to break out of PRISM," was originally published at Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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