Some alter online habits after NSA news

Across the Internet, computer users are talking about

Across the Internet, computer users are talking about changes small and large -- from strengthening passwords and considering encryption to ditching cellphones and using cash over credit cards -- after whistle-blower Edward Snowden leaked secrets about a U.S. mass surveillance program. (Credit: iStock)

News of the U.S. government's secret surveillance programs that targeted phone records and information transmitted on the Internet has done more than spark a debate about privacy. Some people are reviewing and changing their online habits.

Last month former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing that the National Security Agency, as part of its anti-terrorism efforts, had collected the phone records of millions of Americans. A second NSA program called PRISM forces major Internet firms to turn over the detailed contents of communications such as emails, video chats, pictures and more.

Across the Internet, computer users are talking about changes small and large -- from strengthening passwords and considering encryption to ditching cellphones and using cash over credit cards. The conversations play out daily on Reddit, Twitter and other networks, and have spread to offline life with so-called "Cryptoparty" gatherings in cities including Dallas, Atlanta and Oakland, Calif.

Christopher Shoup, a college student from Victorville, Calif., has been encouraging friends to converse on Cryptocat, a private messaging program that promises users they can chat "without revealing messages to a third party."

Cryptocat said it nearly doubled its number of users in two days after Snowden revealed himself as the source of leaks about the NSA's programs.

Two search engine companies billed as alternatives to Google, Bing and Yahoo are also reporting significant surges in use.

DuckDuckGo and Ixquick both promise they don't collect data from users or filter results based on previous history. DuckDuckGo went from 1.8 million searches per day to more than 3 million per day the week after the NSA revelations came to light. Ixquick and sister site Startpage have gone from 2.8 million searches per day to more than 4 million.

DuckDuckGo's website warns of the pitfalls of Internet search engines, including third-party advertisements built around a user's searches or the potential for a hacker or rogue employee to gain access to personal information.

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