There are more ways to communicate online now than ever. It can be overwhelming to choose which service to use. We often find ourselves communicating with one person via multiple channels (e.g. Facebook Messenger, texting, and Snapchat). Because our communication is spread across so many channels, it is vulnerable from many angles. By using one of the following services to communicate when sensitive data is involved, you can protect your information.
SecureDrop is an anonymous submission system by the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The system offers security and anonymity for whistleblowers and news sources, but must be used correctly. Media organizations use this to accept leaked documents or confidential news tips. The best SecureDrop systems will require using Tor to conceal your IP address or location information and avoid compromising your identity.
SecureDrop offers the following privacy features:
- Data Encryption
- No Logging of IP Addresses, browser, or computer
- No third parties
- Minimized metadata
PGP (Pretty Good Privacy)
A software engineer named Phil Zimmerman came up with PGP back in 1991. He was an activist looking for a way to securely transfer information over the internet.
This is how PGP works: You have a public key (to lock/encrypt the message) and a private key (to unlock/decrypt the message). You would send the public key to all your friends so that they can encrypt sensitive messages that they want to send to you. Once you receive an encrypted message, you use your private key to decrypt it.
PGP is used mostly for email encryption, it encrypts the content of the email. However, Pretty Good Privacy does not encrypt the subject and sender of the email, so be sure to never put sensitive information in these fields when using PGP.
Signal is a free, open-source messaging app for iPhone and Android. It encrypts phone calls and messages by default. Only you and the person you communicate with can read or listen to your conversations. The app has a range of settings that can add to the data security it provides. You can set it to delete messages after a given time, to protect you in case your device is lost or stolen. Signal is a project by Open Whisper Systems, which is endorsed by, whistle-blower and privacy advocate, Edward Snowden.
Signal began as a project to bring cryptography to the masses in a user-friendly app. According to a post on Signal’s blog about its foundation, “at the time, the industry consensus was largely that encryption and cryptography would remain unusable, but we started Signal with the idea that private communication could be simple.”
Why You Should Use Encrypted Communications
When you use standard communication methods like email and text messaging, your conversations could be intercepted or hacked. Encrypted messaging, on the other hand, helps minimize the risk of your conversations being compromised.
One way your messages could be hacked is through the use of spyware. One text message or email containing a seemingly harmless link could actually install a program on your computer or smartphone that could gather your information. There are quite a few programs out there that allow a hacker to see your call logs, read text messages, and see GPS tracking data.
If you’re concerned that your phone or computer has spyware installed on it, you can usually fix the problem by doing a factory reset on your device.
Email Is Vulnerable
Bloomberg reported that the North Korean Hacker responsible for the 2014 Sony hack and the 2017 “WannaCry” ransomware attacks was tracked down via his email. If some of the most advanced hackers in the world can be found with their email accounts, it could happen to anyone.
With encrypted messaging this isn’t a possibility. If the contents of your messages are in encrypted form, no one can monitor your conversations except the recipient of your message. If you are a journalist concerned with protecting the anonymity of your sources or in another position where privacy is key, encrypted messaging is a smarter way to communicate than email.
Let us know if you have other services you use to communicate privately on the internet!
Learn More About Private Communications on The Intercept