Your smartphone is simultaneously your best friend and your worst enemy. It can help you find the nearest coffee or bagel joint, reach out to family in a crisis, or get the score or highlights from the Olympics. If it falls into the wrong hands, however, a smartphone can expose your contacts, location history, banking data, and more. As the reality of the extent and invasiveness of the NSA’s surveillance programs hits home, the pro-privacy movement has been cranking up its own ideas to counter spy-technology with pro-privacy technology. This post provides tactics and tools to protect your smartphone.
The most recent example of this is Blackphone – a smartphone that is designed to enable secure, encrypted communications, private browsing and secure file-sharing. The project is a joint venture between an encrypted email service provider (Silent Circle) and a Spanish smartphone startup (Geeksphone). Available for pre-orders within the week, the Blackphone has been built from scratch with security in mind. Few details are available as to what the phone might cost, and while Blackphone is an intriguing concept, there are already some viable tools for protecting your smartphone.
Silent Circle offers subscription services for Android and iOS. The $10/month option encrypts voice, video, texting and file communications sent to anyone who is also using Silent Circle Mobile. The more expensive plan encrypts your end of a phone call to a mobile or landline, even if the person on the other end isn’t a subscriber.
Tools to Protect Your Smartphone
Security Tools for Texting and Instant Messaging
Whisper Systems encrypts text messages between users, as long both users have installed the app and you use it for texting instead of your regular app. The texts are encrypted as they are sent back and forth and stay encrypted when they are stored on your phone.
TextSecure does the same thing but is currently only available for Android users.
ChatSecure offers encrypted messaging for Android and iOS users. This free app doesn’t replace texting; instead, it lets you send encrypted messages over a number of existing chat services like Facebook Chat, Google Talk, Google Hangout, and some others. Obviously this only works if both the sender and receiver have the ChatSecure app on their phone.
Security Tools for Phone Calls
When it comes to making phone calls, the options are simpler because there currently aren’t many.
One option is the Silent Circle service mentioned earlier.
The other option is Red Phone and currently only available on Android phones. Red Phone provides end-to-end encryption for calls, securing conversations so that nobody can listen in.
Security Tools for Browsing the Internet on Your Phone
Another common mobile phone security failure is browsing. Your search data, location and personal information can all be gathered, either by your carrier, government spies or hackers. Consider a secure browser or browsing app for your phone.
On Android, the Guardian Project’s free Orweb browser and companion Orbot apps offer private browsing that frees you from cookies, stops network providers from viewing your web travels and disables security threats. It also doesn’t keep a browsing history.
A good alternative for iOS users is the $1 Onion Browser, which, like Orbot, routes your surfing through the Tor network.
It’s worth noting that none of these options are 100% secure, but using any one of them is better than nothing.