IP Insights

Here's a Way to Minimize Government Spying

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In the summer of 2014, a report came out that was not great news for government agencies, but was interesting news for everyone else—especially those of us who are interested in online privacy.

Here's the news the law enforcement agencies heard from a German technology company that provides services to government agencies: Law enforcement's spying efforts are often derailed or blocked by the antivirus programs that people run on their computers.

The report also revealed that the authorities and agencies were complaining among themselves and to their technology partners that antivirus programs had gotten in the way of surveillance plans and operations.

In an interesting twist, this news didn't come out in a press release made available to the free press—another group of technology experts (likely hackers themselves and/or activists) managed to get ahold of these secret documents and published them for everyone to see.

It's hard for the average online consumer to decide which side of the fence to be on. Obviously, most of us would want our police/protection agencies keeping tabs on people online who have criminal intentions. At the same time, however, we don't really know who is doing the spying and whom they are spying on.

Software at work protecting you.

As you know, antivirus programs are vital to protecting your computer from malicious attacks that can happen at any time. The antivirus program you have doesn't know who the hacker is or what he's trying to do. It simply does its job and helps prevent your computer from being infiltrated and abused.

Most of the malicious attacks that come from hackers are intent on stealing data or disrupting your online routine. Antivirus programs work on your behalf to keep you safe. That's good, right?

Who is the spy?

But now, as this report reveals, some government agencies are displeased that our antivirus programs get in the way of government spying efforts. One of the government agencies named was the Federal Bureau of Investigation—yes, the FBI.

More than that—and more troubling when you think about it—is that law enforcement agencies that are designed to protect people are actively looking for ways to get around the antivirus software that's also designed to protect us. When it's successful, an agency will use specialized, highly secretive surveillance software to infiltrate a target's computer and monitor the person's personal communications. But, as the report revealed, if the target simply has an updated antivirus program installed, the authorities can be blocked.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, a spokesperson for one such company that creates surveillance programs for police authorities had this to say: "We certainly do our best to make sure the antivirus programs that are out there are not going to be able to detect the presence of [our] software. If you're trying to do covert surveillance, which of course we are trying to do, obviously it is something a company like ours has to worry about."

The name of the antivirus programs named in the original leaked documents included the leading brand names in the industry: Norton, from Symantec Corporation, and McAfee, from Intel Corporation.

When's the last time you updated your antivirus software? Because you never know who's watching...

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