Secure Your Smart Phone

January 2019

 

Smart phones track and monitor everything that you do and always know your location, even when you turn the location tracker off. They can be hacked to record you. And the apps that you use on your smart phone 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 phone. The 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, however, since there is more than one kind of phone and phone settings are subject to change. You should keep up with the information that is currently available about your phone and particularly its privacy settings. At regular intervals, you should update your knowledge.

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 your apps to your data. Almost all phone apps violate your privacy is some fashion, so the fewer you have and the more restricted they are the better. There are online guides on dealing with various applications as well as dealing with apps in general.

The third step is to recognize that if you have a choice between an Apple iPhone and Google Android, buy the iPhone. Android phones have a lot more security issues. However, 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 primary problem is that you will have to discover for yourself which are the best apps to use.

The fourth step is to set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for your smart phone. A good VPN hides your identity while online and allows you to roam the web without being tracked. Although there are good free VPNs, it is best to spend the few dollars extra a month to obtain the most secure VPN for your phones and 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 (and most now do). If your communications are properly encrypted, they will not be overheard or recorded. However, current smart phone encryption is not entirely secure. In particular, there are certain holes that can allow outsiders 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, in messaging, and to transfer files. It uses an open source protocol that is widely viewed as 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. Signal deliberately prevents any cloud backup of its data when that cloud backup is not encrypted. All in all, Signal is the best overall method for encrypting your smart phone and other messaging apps.

And 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 can be scaled for enterprise use.

The primary problem with WhatsApp is that it is owned by Facebook, which purchased the service for $19.3 billion dollars in 2014.  Since that purchase, Facebook is known to have used metadata from WhatsApp, primarily phone numbers and other transmission data, to target ads to those using the service. While WhatsApp encryption seems to be secure, most privacy groups recommend the use of Signal. Because of Facebook’s general untrustworthiness on matters of privacy and because the WhatsApp code is proprietary, 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 comes preloaded on Apple Macs. The primary problem with the iMessage encryption is that it only works when those on both ends of a conversation, or messaging, are using iMessage. And anyone who is not using an Apple device is unable to use iMessage. Another problem is that the iMessage code is proprietary, rather than open source, which mean that whatever security exists is controlled by Apple. 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, thus ensuring that the user alone is able to encrypt or decrypt any messaging. Silent Phone is a paid service that is highly regarded by privacy advocates.

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