It's been a big year for Surveillance Self-Defense (SSD), our repository of self-help resources for helping better protect you and your friends from online spying. We've done a number of updates and tackled a few new emerging topics with blog posts.

Fighting for digital security and privacy rights is important, but sometimes we all just need to know what steps we can take to minimize spying, and when steps aren't possible, explaining how things work to help keep you safe. To do this, we break SSD into four sections:

  • Basics: A starter resource that includes overviews of how digital surveillance works.
  • Tool Guides: Step-by-step tutorials on using privacy and security tools.
  • Further Learning: Explainers about protecting your digital privacy.
  • Security Scenarios: Playlists of our resources for specific use cases, such as LGBTQ+ youth, journalists, activists, and more.

But not everything makes sense in SSD, so sometimes we also tackle security education issues with blogs, which tend to focus more on news events or new technology that may not have rolled out widely yet. Each has its place, and each saw a variety of new guidance this year.

Re-tooling Our SSD Tool Guides

Surveillance Self-Defense has provided expert guidance for security and privacy for 14 years. And in those years it has seen a number of revisions, expansions, and changes. We try to consistently audit and update SSD so it contains up to date information. Each guide has a "last reviewed" date so you can quickly see at the start when it last got an expert review.

This year we tackled a number of updates, and took the time to take a new approach with two of our most popular guides: Signal and WhatsApp. For these, we combined the once-separate Android and iPhone guides into one, making them easier to update (and translate) in the future.

We also updated many other guides this year with new information, screenshots, and advice:

SSD also received two new guides. The first was a new guide for choosing a password manager, one of the most important security tools, and one that can be overwhelming to research and start using. The second was a guide for using Tor on mobile devices, which is an increasingly useful place to use the privacy-protecting software.

Providing New Guidance and Responding to News

Part of security education is explaining new and old technologies, responding to news events, and laying out details of any technological quirks we find. For this, we tend to turn to our blog instead of SSD. But the core idea is the same: provide self-help guidance for navigating various security and privacy concerns.

We came up with guidance for passkeys, a new type of login that eliminates the need for passwords altogether. Passkeys can be confusing, both from a security perspective and from a basic usability perspective. We do think there's work that can be done to improve them, and like most security advice, the answer to the question of whether you should use them is "it depends." But for many people, if you’re not already using a password manager, passkeys will be a tremendous increase in security.

When it comes to quirks in apps, we took a look at what happens when you delete a replied-to message in encrypted messaging apps. There are all sorts of little oddities with end-to-end encrypted messaging apps that are worth being aware of. While they don't compromise the integrity of the messaging—your communications are safe from the companies that run them—they can sometimes act unexpectedly, like keeping a message you deleted around longer than you may realize if someone in the chat replied to it directly.

The DNA site 23andMe suffered a “credential stuffing” attack that resulted in 6.9 million user's data appearing on hacker forums. There were only a relatively small number of accounts actually compromised, but once in, the attacker was able to scrape information about other users using a feature known as DNA Relatives, which provided users with an expansive family tree. There's nothing you can do after this if your data was included, but we explained what happened, and the handful of steps you could take to better secure your account and make it more private in the future.

Google released its "Privacy Sandbox" feature, which, while improved from initial proposals back in 2019, still tracks your internet use for behavioral advertising by using your web browsing to define "topics" of interest, then queuing up ads based on those interests. The idea is that instead of the dozens of third-party cookies placed on websites by different advertisers and tracking companies, Google itself will track your interests in the browser itself, controlling even more of the advertising ecosystem than it already does. Our blog shows you how to disable it, if you choose to.

We also took a deep dive into an Android tablet meant for kids that turned out to be filled with sketchyware. The tablet was riddled with all sorts of software we didn't like, but we shared guidance for how to better secure an Android tablet—all steps worth taking before you hand over any Android tablet as a holiday gift.

After a hard fought battle pushing Apple to encrypt iCloud backups, the company actually took it a step further, allowing you to encrypt nearly everything in iCloud, including those backups, with a new feature they call Advanced Data Protection. Unfortunately, it's not the default setting, so you should enable it for yourself as soon as you can.

Similarly, Meta finally rolled out end-to-end encryption for Messenger, which is thankfully enabled by default, though there are some quirks with how backups work that we explain in this blog post.

EFF worked hard in 2023 to explain new consumer security technologies, provide guidance for tools, and help everyone communicate securely. There's plenty more work to be done next year, and we'll be here to explain what you can, how to do it, and how it works in 2024.

This blog is part of our Year in Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2023.

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