In the history of international espionage in general and specifically in the case of the US National Security Agency (NSA), there has been a turning point. Previously, everyone speculated about the extent to which the USA was monitoring us, yet without there being any clear evidence of this. Who has never thought that someone, somewhere was keeping track of all the messages you write on Facebook or in emails?
Thanks to Snowden of course, we know now this is true. The NSA has been spying left, right and center on all the tools that people use every day: data from Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Google, Skype and YouTube were carefully analyzed by the NSA and the FBI. Even Hollywood couldn’t have come up with such a scarcely credible plot. Yet they hadn’t foreseen that Edward Snowden, one of their employees would jump ship and reveal their little secret to The Guardian and The Washington Post
Over a year later, the ex-CIA operative continues to be a famous name. One Internet security survey of more than 20,000 people across 24 countries, organized by the Canadian Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) has revealed that 60% of participants in the survey had at some time heard of Snowden. Germany was the country where most people had heard of him: some 94% of respondents. Not so surprising when you think that Chancellor Angela Merkel had had her phone tapped by US spies.
Some 85% of Chinese citizens also know who Snowden is, and with good reason. He revealed that Washington had been spying for years on China and Hong Kong. Paradoxically, citizens of these countries are more aware of Edward Snowden than those from his native soil: just 76% of Americans know what he did. Kenya is bottom of this particular ranking: just 14% of the population is conscious of just how far the tentacles of the U.S. security agency spread around the globe.
In fear of the all-seeing eye of the U.S. ‘Big Brother’, 39% of respondents who knew about Snowden have taken measures to improve their privacy and security because of the scandal. Curiously, citizens of India are those that have been most diligent in protecting themselves (69%), followed by those in Mexico and China. The French, Swedish and Japanese have barely changed their security habits, while in the USA, some 36% have improved their privacy. Perhaps most are resigned to their government’s knowing who they are friends with on Facebook or how many hours they spend playing Candy Crush, as they suppose there is not much they can do about it anyway.
Indirectly, the Snowden case and the widespread paranoia about the possibility that governments are spying on your digital life has had other effects, even for those who weren’t aware. Some two-thirds of respondents confessed to being more concerned about their privacy than a year ago, while 62% say they are aware that government agencies in other countries may be secretly spying on them online. A similar figure, 61%, expressed concern that their own government could be monitoring everything they do on the Web.
It also turns out that we now change passwords more than ever to protect our privacy. Some 39% of respondents claimed they regularly change their passwords, and that they do so more frequently than in the previous year. So even if you have to click the ‘Password reset’ button a hundred times because your brain is unable to remember which digit you changed the last time, at least you won’t feel that someone is reading your confidential data.
Moreover, 43% of respondent confessed to avoiding certain Web pages, just in case, and 73% said that they wanted their personal details and private information stored physically on a secure server.
More than one year on, the Snowden revelations continue to resound in the halls of power and across cyber-space, though it’s rare to see the young IT engineer in the media. He now lives in Moscow, reads Dostoevsky and spends his days watching ‘The Wire’. Revealing that the world is not secure and that the U.S. government has its nose in everyone’s business has led to a life in exile for this brave man, though at least it has served to encourage all of us to improve our security.
If after reading this article your level of paranoia has gone from Def Con 5 to Def Con 1, we remind you that you can also safeguard the privacy of the data on your phone with Panda Mobile Security, our free antivirus for Android.