Secure Your Smart Phone

January 2019

 

Smart phones track and monitor everything that you do and always know your location, even when the location tracker is turned off. They can be hacked to record you as well. Also, the apps that you use on your smart phone often spy on you. Here is how to secure your smart phone.

 

Basic Security

The first step is to properly set up the privacy and log-on settings on your particular phone. It should be noted that default settings are often set on your smart phone to siphon off information and data about you. We will not deal with these issues here in detail, since there is one more than one kind of phone and phone settings are subject to change. You need to keep up with the information that is currently available about your particular phone and particularly its privacy settings. At regular intervals, you should update your knowledge on the changes that have been made.

The second step is to remove as many as many apps as you can from your smart phone and to set the proper settings to limit the access of those apps that you retain to your data. Almost all applications violate your privacy is some manner, so the fewer you have and the more restricted they ate the better. There are online guides to dealing with various applications and to apps in general.

The third step is to recognize that if you have a choice between buying an Apple iPhone or an Google Android, buy the iPhone. Android phones have a lot more security issues. On the other hand, you can harden your Android to make it secure. One way is to use F-Droid, rather than Google Play Store, to find free and open source software for your Android. The only problem is that you will have to familiarize yourself, and decide, which are the best apps for you.

The fourth step is to set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for your smart phone. A good VPN hides your identity while you are online and allows you to roam the web without being tracked. Although there are free VPNs, it is best to spend the few dollars extra a month to obtain the most secure VPN for your phones and your other Internet devices. For more information, see the VPN article on this website.

The fifth step is to ensure that encryption is enabled on your smart phone, if your phone has encryption (most now do). If your communications are properly encrypted, your communications will not be overheard or recorded. However, current smart phone encryption does not cover all the bases. In particular, there are certain holes that allow smart phone companies access to your data.

Below we will describe the more advanced encryption that is available.

 

Advanced Security

There are several encrypted messaging systems that can ensure end-to-end encryption over your smart phone and other messaging devices.

Signal

Signal provides encryption for Apple and Android phones, and for desktop software that runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux. It can be used in both voice and video calls, to send messages between individuals and within groups. It can be used to transfer files, voice notes, images, and videos. It uses an open source protocol that is widely considered to be the best end-to-end encryption system in general use.

Signal is free to use in both Apple (iOS) and Android phones, as well as in desktop and other computer applications. Signals purposely prevents any cloud backup of its data when the cloud backup is not encrypted. All in all, Signal is the best overall method for encrypting your smart phone and other messaging apps.

Signal is freeware.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp, with over a billion and a half users, is the world’s most widely-used encrypted messaging app. It provides end-to-end encryption for smart phones, other messaging devices, and desktop computer software. Based on the the same encryption protocol as Signal, WhatsApp can be used to transmit encrypted voice, text, and video. And unlike Signal, it is used by more than individuals. It can be scaled for enterprise use.

The main problem with WhatsApp is that it is owned by Facebook, which purchased the service for $19.3 billion dollars in 2014.  Since then, Apple has used metadata from WhatsApp, primarily phone numbers and other transmission data, to target ads to those using the service. While WhatsApp encryption appears to be secure, most privacy groups recommend that users employ Signal instead. Because of Facebook’s general untrustworthiness on matters of privacy and because of the proprietary nature of the WhatsApp code, the use of WhatsApp is considered to be problematic.

iMessage

iMessage, which is Apple’s default texting application, provides end-to-end encryption for all iOS devices. It is also preloaded on Apple Macs. The chief problem with the iMessage encryption is that it only works when those on both ends of any conversation, or messaging, are using iMessage. Anyone who is not using an Apple device can’t use iMessage. Another problem is that the iMessage code is proprietary, rather than being open source, meaning that whatever security exists is controlled by Apple. And there have been problems with the security of iMessage in the past.

Silent Phone

Silent Phone is a proprietary, military-grade, encryption technology owned by a company called Silent Circle, which is headquartered in Switzerland. The encryption keys are held by those who use the service, thereby ensuring that the user alone can encrypt or decrypt all messaging. Silent Phone is a paid service that is highly regarded.

Although there are other encrypted messaging systems, these are the primary systems that are in current use by the general public.