Securing your smartphone

New apps, services designed to keep your interactions private

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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When Jeremy Banner sends sensitive information to others from his computer, he protects what he shares using encryption technology.

"I personally have had information stolen from me, my social security number, and I don't want to be- fall victim to that kind of thing again," he said.

And Banner is interested in keeping his smartphone communication encrypted, too. A growing number of apps and services are designed to keep the stuff you send from your smartphone secret.

"We live in a pervasive surveillance environment, and so more people are aware of it, and thus that creates more market demand and that creates more products," explained Philip Zimmermann, with Silent Circle, who helped create Silent Text.

Silent Text is part of the "Silent Suite" of services to protect all of your phone communication. Other apps, like ChatSecure and TextSecure, will also encrypt your messages.  Zimmermann says this kind of security doesn't have to be complicated.

"Some encryption software is easy enough to use that even your grandma could use it," he added. 

There are options to encrypt your voice and video communications, too. An important point to know: the person you communicate with also needs the app in order to decrypt what you send. 

"It takes two to tango," said Christopher Soghoian, an ACLU Principal Technologist. "Consumers are sort of stuck, figuring out which one do they use and then convincing their friends to also use that app, too." 

It's a little easier to lock down your internet activity on your phone.  Browsers like Orweb or Onion Browser help make you invisible online.  No matter which service you might select, Soghoian has some advice.

"Do a little bit of research online and see what people are saying about them. My general rule of thumb is that if the software is not open sourced, if a, if an expert cannot look under the hood and see what's happening, then I don't want to use it," he said.   

Something else to keep in mind: cost.  You may have to pay a monthly fee for some services and Soghoian says all of the secure communications apps that he knows of tend to use the data connection, not the voice or text service. 

"That may cost you more money," warned Soghoian. 

And even when using encryption apps, there's always a possibility your communications could be compromised.

"They're not going to provide 100% security, but they're definitely an improvement," Soghoian added. 

But in Banner's opinion, any protection is better than none.

"If you don't use any kind of security, you're really, pretty much, just like leaving your car door unlocked and leaving your wallet on your seat," he said.

Another important fact: these apps tend to require a very good network connection, so they're less likely to work well in remote environments.

Helpful links to apps and information:

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