As a general user, and a member of the general public, you could be excused for not paying more attention to online security. After all, email encryption is still quite hard. Your memory is already bulging with birthdays and tax filing dates, leaving little space for proper passwords. And who really knows how or why to use VPN. TOR? Isn’t that just for Chinese dissenters and people who really like mind-altering mushrooms?
I’m with you on all of that (at least for the sake of argument).
But why on earth aren’t you using Signal (on iPhone) or TextSecure (on Android)!?
Open Whisper Systems is a non-profit developer groups whose mission is “… to make private communication simple.” Their three flagship applications are Signal (for iOS devices), TextSecure and RedPhone (both for Android devices).
Signal is a messaging and VoIP calling app. For Android users these two functions are split into two apps: TextSecure for messaging and RedPhone for calling. We have many apps like this already (Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger) so what makes these apps different?
- All messages and calls end-to-end encrypted. This means that every message you send, and word you speak, is encrypted on your phone and decrypted on the recipients phone. Your encryption keys are stored on your phone, so no one else has any access to your communication. No spy agency can listen in on you, and more importantly, no company can collect and sell your data.
- The application is open-source. Which means that the programming code is open for anyone to read and use. This is an important security aspect, because it ensures that a large group of programmers inspect the code for potential weaknesses and so-called ‘back-doors’.
- It’s free. Really free. Not fake free. Like most other messaging and calling apps, these are free in the sense that you don’t have to pay anything to use them. But that’s not all. These apps are also free in the sense that they don’t push you advertising in any form. Even more importantly, the app provider does not sell or use your data in any form. In fact it’s impossible for them, because all data is encrypted on your phone using a key that only you have access to. You (and whoever you’re talking to) have ultimate control over your data.
These apps are really easy to use. If you can use Skype, Facebook, or really just a phone, then you’re well equipped to switch to Signal, TextSecure and RedPhone.
Do it today!
It only takes a few seconds. And then get your friends to use it as well. It’s fun to be private together!
Addition (2015–12–01): Since this post was first published, Open Whisper Systems have replaced TextSecure and RedPhone with a unified android app also called Signal.