The French people of the past have learned the hard way that, if you want your liberty, you will need to crack a few eggs. And by eggs, we mean the decapitated heads of those in power. But the French internet authority has found a better, softer, way to keep track of its citizens. The ARCEP Snitch is an almost unnoticeable tool in a law that is easy to miss, that will keep a watchful eye on what the French internet users are doing online.
The idea that some governmental regulatory body wants to observe what people are doing online is not new. Most governments across the world have something similar either in place or in their plans. But, this shouldn’t mean that it is okay for any administration to do this.
For any person even remotely interested in their cybersecurity, and even their personal security, protecting their privacy should be paramount. Thankfully, using a good VPN will almost completely remove the effects of the ARCEP snitch. With providers like Le VPN, you will be able to connect to a remote server. This will cloak both your IP address from the websites you go to and those websites from your nosy government.
What is the ARCEP?
The French Internet regulatory body ARCEP (Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et des Postes) is an independent governmental body that deals with mobile and cabled internet in the entire French Republic.
There are several benefits for having such a body, and indeed most countries have some equivalent of it. But, these regulators have a set of similar problems as do all administrative organizations, which is that they are slow.
The internet is changing much faster than any such body can follow. Because of this, they often chose to use authoritarian tactics to subdue any issues that they believe are coming from the internet. In some countries, this means direct censorship of certain content, websites, or services.
In France, however, it will just mean a quiet peek into what you like doing on your computer.
The regulator will force French Internet Service Providers like Bouygues, Orange, Free, and SFR to place snitches in the routers. These devices will observe what the users are looking at on the internet, and more.
The law forces these devices to be installed no later than in the next few years.
Understanding Your ISP
Unless you have organized your own network of servers, or you have your own satellite (in which case: Hi Mr. Musk, big fan) you are connected to the internet through an Internet Service Provider.
Internet Service Providers (or ISP) have their servers and connection and are subject to the government of the country they are operating in. In most cases, the ISP will act solely in a single country and have daughter or sister companies abroad.
While no ISP really wants to share any data with the government, they are forced to comply with any law that is brought before them. Additionally, most ISP companies like collecting data on their users.
This data can be used in all types of ways. Primarily, it can tailor ads and offer for their users, making them spend more money. Additionally, this data can often be sold to other companies or marketers, where it is more valuable than gold.
What is in your ISP Router?
The ISP router should be no different than any WiFi or LAN router that you could buy from Amazon. Technically, its only purpose would be to give you an IP address with which you could connect to the internet using your ISP’s server.
But, in most cases, your ISP router will want to take any data possible, as well as provide some additional services. In their best-case scenario, they will want your name and address, which they already have through your bill, to be connected to the things you look for on the web.
Using and Misusing your Router
There is always a possibility that someone will misuse the trust you put in them. That is true for even your closest friends, let alone multi-billion dollar faceless corporations.
While your ISP should never misuse the data, you give it, that sometimes happens. Some of the reasons might be legitimate, others less so.
Primarily, your ISP will sometimes be your cable company as well. This means that they want to know which TV programs you watch, and which you avoid. Having this type of information makes them offer you a better service, lowering their cost. In a perfect world, this would mean decreasing your bill, but they just stall raising the prices.
But, sometimes the Internet Service Providers are not as honest. There are cases where these companies used the data they collect to sell to marketers. Also, there is a dirty business practice of cable companies keeping some channels out of their service until you pay more. This often happens with various sports channels.
While data tracking is usually not something ISPs need to do, governments can have significant benefits from them. Tracking the pulse of the internet can determine what you buy, what you listen to, and even how you vote.
By using something like the ARCEP snitch, your government can know what is your IP address location and focus their policies and campaigns on your town.
This seldom happens in Europe, as EU laws are usually able to prevent this misuse of trust. But, in countries like China, Iran, or Russia, this is a common occurrence. Additionally, it is questionable if EPO, the European Patent Agency, will be able to react if this device breaks the rules about intellectual property.
Why Would the ARCEP Do This?
We are living in the age of information, where having data means having power. Also, being without information means having a vulnerability, this can be exploited.
The French internet regulatory body doesn’t want to leave things to chance. They know from the news that a lot of criminals are being radicalized on the internet. Also, a lot of crime is being organized using social media and other platforms.
As all governmental bodies are authoritarian in nature, it hasn’t occurred on them to try to push education campaigns and ensure their citizen’s privacy. Instead, most regulators will always opt to ban, censor, or spy on people.
What is a Snitch?
The same way as a confidential informant snitches on their criminal comrades, the ISP snitch, informs on you. It is meant to be a small and unnoticeable device that will fit into your ISP router and supervise your public communication.
While this device would only be used to supervise, it would also have some access to LAN devices on your network. This changes the snitch from an annoying device that endangers your privacy to a serious warning. With these privileges, the snitch can gain access to your private documents and confidential data.
Additionally, as there is no need to pass your router, the snitch can simply send this data stored on your LAN devices to the regulator. As this would be the core function of the snitch, it wouldn’t fall under the same rules as spying or tapping your phone.
Enabling outside operators to use your devices can lead to a security breach that can leave you without your data. Even worse, in some cases that information can be stolen and shared with others. Ideally, the regulator side would be unhackable, but that is rarely the case.
Dangers of Being Seen
On average, the internet is not as scary of a place that most paint it to be. Most people online are quite reasonable and have no bad intentions neither towards you or your data. But, what internet suffers from is the rule of large numbers.
The small percentage of hackers, criminals, and thieves on the internet combined make an insanely large number. And you need to protect yourself from these people. There are different ways to protect yourself, but the basics are a good VPN, an updated operating system, and a reliable anti-virus program.
Using a premium VPN, such as Le VPN, would remove your presence from the internet. While your data will still be on your computer, and you will still communicate with people, your IP address will be masked. This way, you can browse freely without becoming a target of some hacker or data collector.
Finally, it would be best to have something like a VPN router. This device can protect all of your devices, including the ones used as IoT, and avoid the snitch installed in the ISP router.
Step against Our Liberties
The fact that you are paranoid doesn’t mean that there is no one out to get you. Although this mantra does make cybersecurity experts sound like conspiracy theorists, it is a good one to have. Being vigilant about our freedoms, that our forefathers and foremothers fought so hard to obtain, should be the duty of every person that considers themselves free.
The government is not our parents or our partners, and they should not have an insight into our privacy. Even these small rules that are implemented without directly hurting anyone or damaging our rights as customers can, at some point, become huge breaches in our civil liberties.
Even the French, who have brought the world the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen) can fall into the trap of becoming more authoritarian as time passes without vigilance.
Hackers and Data Peddlers
There is more to cybersecurity than the principle views that your privacy should be, well, private. There are also practical reasons why you wouldn’t want your data to be spread through some government institutions. This is especially true for those who also have your name and home address.
It is more than plausible that if you are subject to the ARCEP snitch, or some similar device, that the body collecting that data will become a weak-point in your cybersecurity. Even if you have an anti-virus and a firewall that works perfectly, a malicious entity can always hack the regulator directly and take your data from them.
Also, there is a possibility that that malicious person would be working for the regulator. As we mentioned, information is golden today. And, there are those tempted to capitalize on all of the data going through their hands.
In addition to any malpractice done by the regulator himself, there is also corporate malpractice possible from the ISP.
Even without a snitch, there is a capability from your ISP to see some of the data you are browsing. This will usually be just the IP addresses you are connecting to and how much you are staying on those websites, but even that is dangerous.
By having the snitch, the ISP will be able to have a lot more control over your device and the data you are using. If there is any opening for malpractice here, your internet privacy might be devastated.
In these days, saying a corrupt politician sounds like a pleonasm. It has become so common that even those not interested in politics can predict that there is a corrupt member of the current government. Regardless of the country, region, or political system, this has become a fact.
And, if there is a push from somewhere inside the regulatory body, or even higher, to use your data to model political campaigns or silence the opposition, having something like the ARCEP snitch is a perfect tool for this endeavor.
Bypassing the ISP Box
Thankfully, bypassing something like the snitch is relatively easy. The same Netflix VPN you use to access that sweet, sweet Japanese anime can be used to protect you from both your government and any hackers that might follow them.
If your VPN is connected to your ISP router directly, you will also need several tools. These tools must prevent access to any of your IoT devices or those with a LAN connection.
Using a VPN
In the last decade, a VPN became the best tool for your cybersecurity. As it has become impossible to keep track of all the hackers, scammers, and data thieves online, it is now best to make yourself scarce. Masking your IP address, as well as having a P2P encrypted connection, has proven to be impossible for even the most tenacious of hackers to break.
With providers like Le VPN, you can use a simple app on your PC, iOS, or Android device to connect to a secure server. Once you are there, your complete data history will seem like you have only connected to that one IP address. Also, all other data will be scrambled.
Firewalls and Anti-Virus
Unless you are using a VPN router, something like the ARCEP snitch can sometimes access the device it is connected to directly and take data from there.
In such cases, you will need firewalls and anti-meddling software that will block the snitch from accessing your device. Any premium software will work, as they are usually prepared for exactly this kind of meddling. But, opting to wing it and use free software sometimes won’t be enough.
Finally, a snitch can also access something like your smart TV. If there is a possibility to install anti-virus on your TV and similar devices, you should go with it. But, if you are using a device like the Amazon Firestick, you will need to protect it with a VPN for Firestick.
Disconnected is the Most Secure
For the most precious of data, such are your business projects or your most intimate pictures and videos; your best bet is an external drive or a USB flash. While there is always a chance that something will happen, like you forgetting to enable your VPN, there is no hacker that can hack air.
Make it a small ritual where you first check all of your VPN connections, internet stability, protection software status, and only then insert your USP with such data. Even some hypothetical master hacker with unlimited resources can’t hack devices that are not connected to the network. From their perspective, it would be as if these do not exist at all.
Advantages of Cyber Hygiene
While generally a new term, cyber hygiene has become one of the necessary steps needed to protect yourself online. Unlike general cybersecurity that includes all kinds of hardware, software, and protocols, this part has the user as the main subject.
Keeping yourself and your devices clean on the internet and in the real world means not oversharing and always being vigilant. The USB trick that we have mentioned is also a part of cyber hygiene.
As with other types of hygiene, the main advantage is prevention. And, the main disadvantage is that you need to make a routine of it. It should become common sense not to give strangers your passwords, leave your email address in a store for 5% discount, or disclose to Instagram that you have just left your home for the next three weeks.
Finally, cyber hygiene is as important to teach to your children as is regular hygiene. The costs of a dirty internet history can be as detrimental as those of a dirty body.
It is without a doubt that the ARCEP snitch is something you will want to avoid and a step in a bad direction when it comes to the internet freedom of French citizens. Additionally, it is a part of a very frightening trend worldwide where governments want to peek into our private lives.
Thankfully, it is also a measure that can be easily bypassed by having a good VPN. Premium providers such as Le VPN have easy apps, secure servers, and even VPN routers that can protect you, your family members, and all of your data with just a few clicks.
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