Why encryption is a good thing
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Encryption is a useful tool that can be used to protect yourself online. It protects your privacy, defends you against hackers, and sends a message that you value your privacy. It can also be used by political activists who might be persecuted for their beliefs.
Encryption can be used to protect yourself against hackers. Without encryption, a hacker can read all of your emails and texts and install programs onto your computer. They could even steal your accounts, and frame you for their illegal actions. Or, they could break into your computer and steal your data, holding it ransom until you pay up.
It protects the identities and communications of political activists under repressive regimes. Encryption can prevent freedom of speech being restricted online, because an outside observer cannot tell what is being written. Recently, Russia tried blocking a specific Wikipedia article related to marijuana. But because of encryption, Russia could not determine which part of Wikipedia a user was trying to access. As a result, they could either block all of Wikipedia or block none of it. They chose none of it.
Furthermore, it is an antidote to the NSA’s spying. After the Snowden revelations, many were concerned about the government’s spying powers. Although there were calls to shut down the programs, this never happened. But another way to nix the spying powers of the NSA is to use encryption. Encryption renders your messages unreadable to the NSA, protecting your privacy.
Using it promotes encryption as a de facto standard. This is important to stand up for your rights: that your messages belong to you and only you. By not using encryption, you are implicitly agreeing that others can read your messages.
Consider a perfectly good man who has not performed any illegal acts, does not use encryption, and recently obtained proof of high level government corruption. He wants to protect his communications with a journalist regarding his documents, so he starts using encryption. But the government knows that he does not normally use encryption, which implies that he must have the documents. They block all encrypted traffic from him, and shut him down. Now, if he had always used encryption, no one would know that he had sensitive documents, and he would be able to leak his proof to the world.
So, how do you protect yourself online? The Electronic Frontiers Foundation has a great guide. If you do not want to read through it, then the easiest way is to install Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere, which are extensions that require no maintenance or setup but make your browser use encryption wherever possible. They work on most major browsers save Internet Explorer. For texting and calling, Signal Messenger runs on iOS, Android, and almost all computers. It is open source and uses a very strong encryption algorithm which has never been broken. Furthermore, it allows you to message anyone – securely if the person you are calling has Signal, insecurely otherwise.
The best time to start using encryption was 10 years ago. The second best time is now.