A week or so ago, Wikileaks unleashed Vault 7 – a bunch of confidential information from the CIA that’s, frankly, incomprehensible at worst and a bit meh at best, unless you’re the type whose headgear consists largely of kitchen roasting supplies.
Get out of our heads, CIA!
I mean, “Year Zero files” sound kind of ominous, sure. But there’s no Snowden-tier revelations there to send us running for the bunkers – just to Facebook to do the usual “skim-article-and-share-with-angry-emoji-comment”.
What may have made us just a little bit twitchier than the offbrand Colombian blend burning in our coffee machine, was the suggestion that our Smart TVs could be used to spy on us. While the boys at the CIA aren’t too concerned by you slumping on the couch picking your nose while you catch up on “Stranger Things”, idly contemplating how well Winona Ryder aged, except she looks even crazier now – it’s, like, an invasion of your privacy, man!
We’ve long been wary of shadowy organisations tapping our cellphone conversations, and we’ve been putting unsightly bits of packing tape over our laptop cams since forever – or at least since we all saw how Mark Zuckerberg does it. Frankly I don’t want anyone seeing my resting computer face, or what I wear to work in, so there’s that.
What most of us weren’t expecting was that the goggle box could be the only thing more cognizant of our daily activities than the old lady across the street who tirelessy watches our house, so she can inform us with glee that she saw our significant other leave the house at “PAST 10PM LAST NIGHT! When you surely must have been asleep!”
“So you’re getting divorced now? Can I have your nice Ikea flower boxes? There won’t be room for them in your new flatlet.”
Apparently certain models of the Samsung Smart TV have the ability to eavesdrop on your conversations, so that they can utilize built-in voice control features. If you’re the kind of sad Luddite who is creeped out by Siri and secretly still thinks “Smart” means it looks pretty spiffy in front of your friends, you probably had no clue that this was even a thing. According to the CIA leaks, though, not only can your TV listen to you, it also has a Fake Off function, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – you switch it off, but the bastard just fake-sleeps while it continues to listen – just like you do when your baby is crying in the next room at 3am and it’s your turn, but you found that sweet pillow spot…
Samsung isn’t too riled up by this leak, and has made the kind of non-committal statement that we’re all too familiar with, in these ever-more-interesting times: “We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter.” And that’s all they have to say about THAT. Welp.
Just to ramp up our paranoia, Kellyanne “Alternative Facts” Conway came right out and told the world that we can be spied on not only through our phones and televisions – but there are “microwaves that turn into cameras”. I’ve long suspected that the cockroaches who manage to survive somewhere in the body of my microwave, despite repeated lengthy nuking, are actually sentient alien microbots planted in my kitchen to anger me into a fatal thrombosis, and do experiments on my lifeless carcass. But this shit is truly nuts.
(credit to @adamtots)
Kellyanne then did an interview with CNN in which she blithely backtracked on her statement, and remarked that she wasn’t Inspector Gadget – implying that she can’t be expected to know about all that ol’ boring complicated technical stuff. First off, Kellyanne, you most certainly are not Inspector Gadget. He is a snazzy dresser, and wears a hat when he’s having a bad hair day.
On second thoughts – don’t wear a hat, it just scares us more.
Secondly, you know your boss hates CNN with a passion bordering on pathological, right? (He also hated the CIA, but has given them the power to perform drone strikes, so I guess they’re buddies now). Thirdly, WTF, KC? Were you just joking before, or what? Mildly interested parties need to know!
If this whole debacle has made you slightly more nervous than usual about your opinionated socialist friend who gets drunk and loud in the kitchen, right up next to your toaster and shit, rest assured – we’ve got some simple tricks to prevent drones taking you out when you go outside to throw away the used cat litter.
1. Change your passwords often
Don’t be that person who uses the same password for every single account because you can never remember where you save stuff. Your spouse already knows about your fetish for scantily-clad people sloppily eating pasta (Google it – it’s a thing), and that you watch and sing along to Teddy Pendergrass’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” on Youtube when you’re about to evacuate the previous night’s burritos. Changing your password isn’t going to keep that fact from the significant other. It’s way too late. Do it anyway.
2. Switch off most of your location features
Yes, fine, we all want to know you checked in to that fancy new craft beer pub where the servers look like Paul Bunyan – if he had tried to change printer cartridges, then got angry and hacked them up with his axe and smeared the results on his arms and neck. But do you really want all your apps knowing where are you are, or using the microphone on your smartphone for nefarious purposes? Change your app settings. You don’t need us to explain how, you’re a functioning adult. It’s probably best to get a small child to do it for you.
3. Switch off your phone’s voice recognition feature
As an iPhone user, Siri is your girlfriend, we know. If you want to ensure that your information isn’t being collected and used by Apple or more sinister organizations, just ask her if she’s spying on you. OK, rude and uncalled-for jokes aside, if you prize your personal security above finding the nearest liquor store in a strange town, think about disabling this feature.
4. Tape up your laptop’s camera
This isn’t going to prevent hackers doing their thing – if they really want to. Sneaky Bond-movie archvillains over in Kiev or Karachi probably don’t want to know what you look like when you’re watching your SPECIAL movies online when everyone’s out, but there’s a bit more to it than that. You might remember Webcamgate, where a school actively spied on its students at home with loaner laptops. Didn’t eat your greens, and used the S-word to your little brother? Creepy Mr Jones with the too-tight shirt collar saw you. That’s detention for you, kiddo!
“I see you have your ‘little bit drunk, reading serious news site’ slack-jowled expression, again.”
5. Use up-to-date software
This one seems obvious, but people are creatures of habit. The Windows 8 start menu nightmare still haunts you, and the Windows 10 upgrade was another nail in the coffin of your trust in the security of your technology – without even adding much in the way of better features. Upgrades might be on your to-do list somewhere below “colonoscopy”. But some software relies on you to stay current, because security issues are constantly being upgraded to keep those bastard hackers out of your stuff.
6. Switch off your Smart TV’s tracking features
Disconnect your TV from the Internet, already. At best, it tracks information about your viewing habits. At worst, it stores the info on the company’s servers and sells that info to advertisers – seriously, screw you, Vizio. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to watch whatever nauseating college comedy is up for release on Netflix. Get yourself a dongle or streaming box for your online TV viewing habits – it’s not a perfect solution, but at least your TV will do more or less what you expect it to.
7. Don’t download suspicious files
I know, you’re not that dumb, and you feel kind of offended at the very suggestion. But if you’re the kind of nice person who lets your gran download pie recipes if she visits, let us remind you that she’s probably going to click on all kinds of stuff. Next thing you know, you’ve got malware crawling all over your system, and some kind of horrific drug-fuelled Mr Robot scenario happening in your front room, except without the hot hacker chicks. If you’re worried about what might be going on with your computer, hot computer geeks at Symantec know how to help you get rid of the nasties.
So now you know how to fly under the radar, and you can dance around like no-one’s watching, without secret agents uploading your “genital helicopter” or “boobie frug” highlights onto the private work server to enjoy on their lunchbreak.
Hit that ON button and do the do!