June 5 was Reset the Net day, when nearly 60 organizations came together to on the one-year anniversary of Edward Snowden's infamous National Security Agency leaks to make a stand against government surveillance of the Internet.
Reset the Net was more than just an online demonstration, though -- it's a project with specific and achievable goals designed to enhance the security of ordinary Internet users. Reset the Net is petitioning Web developers to add NSA-resistant technologies to existing sites and services. Specifically, the collective wants them to use SSL (Secure Socket Layer), HSTS (HTTP Strict Transport Security) and Perfect Forward Security.
Some of these technologies are already commonplace, but none are ubiquitous. SSL, for example, is used by many sites to ensure that all data exchanged between a Web browser and a web site remains encrypted in both directions. But with many sites, including some trading in sensitive data, don't use the security technology.
Likewise, HSTS is a protocol designed to force a browser to use the secure version of a site, even if the user didn't type "https." This can prevent malicious parties from hijacking a connection and redirecting your browser to an unsecured version of the site, where your data can be intercepted en route.
Perfect Forward Security uses special encryption keys that limits the damage a third party can do if they find or decrypt your key.
There's good reason for ordinary Internet users to be interested in Reset the Net. Specifically, the site has collected a Privacy Pack, which is a genuinely useful collection of tools and resources for staying safe and secure online. There are links for phone, passwords, Windows, Mac and even Linux users.
The Phone link on the site leads to three apps for making surveillance of your mobile habits more difficult: ChatSecure and TextSecure, encrypted texting and messaging apps, and RedPhone, an app that delivers end-to-end encryption for phone calls. All three apps are available for Android now, though TextSecure and RedPhone are billed as "coming soon" for iPhone.
On the password front, Reset the Net provides links to tool MasterPassword, a clever app designed to help you maintain unique passwords for all of your many sites and services, but without storing or syncing passwords across devices.
Indeed, it's the most innovative password manager we've ever seen, but it's only available for Mac and iOS, so Windows users are out of luck. Even more useful is that the Privacy Pack lists what's probably the single most comprehensive list of sites that support so-called two-factor authentication anywhere, a more secure way of identifying someone online. It features dozens of sites, organized by type (Backup, Banking, Cloud Storage and more), and indicates if the site supports two-factor authentication, and includes a link to find out how to turn it on.
Finally, the Privacy Pack includes links to tools for Windows, Mac and Linux users. That includes apps like Tor, which prevents anyone from monitoring your activities online, as well as Pidgin and Adium, which encrypt chat within Facebook, Google and more. And those are only the highlights; the site is a treasure trove of additional links for secure apps and services.
Even if you're not a privacy advocate or railing against NSA surveillance in your spare time, Reset the Net's Privacy Pack is a great resource for protecting yourself online. Because the same tools that mask your activities from the government also help to protect you from run-of-the-mill hackers and criminals.