Unless you’ve been traveling in space for the last few years, you obviously know all about the mass surveillance by the National Security Agency and Edward Snowden‘s revelations, as well as the continued acceleration in security hacks globally.
Besides using a virtual private network (VPN) when you are on public Wifi (here is why a VPN is extremely important), I’ve found the simplest method for my family, friends and even clients is to use a super-secure, open source app on our phones called Signal by Open Whispher Systems.
Even non-geeks know that email is laughingly insecure, which is why this app is so important and how I use it:
a) My bookkeeper sends me important, private information over the Signal app.
b) I have clients send me passwords and credentials for their services.
c) Several of my friends and family members I’m connected to use Signal to send me messages that need to be secure. We often share items like passwords, especially when I’m helping one of them with some website or online application requiring me to login.
c) But what really sold me on Signal was when my wife was on a recent business trip to Hong Kong. Her hotel’s Wifi was set up to disallow the use of VPNs so she was not able to set up a secure, encrypted channel. This is because of what is euphemistically called the great firewall of China which the country uses to restrict what their citizenry has access to outside of China.
So my wife and I connected on Signal and, because the system has both private messaging and voice calling, we knew we would be secure and assured that some Chinese government flunky wasn’t eavesdropping on our messages or listening-in on our calls.
As I’d mentioned, Signal boasts highly secure private messaging using end-to-end encryption. In fact, the Signal protocol (the underlying technology) is being used by WhatsApp (though there are other insecurity issues with the app so I do NOT recommend using it). As of this writing, all other messaging apps (yes, even Apple’s Messages) have good security layers, but some are still accessible by the NSA’s warrantless surveillance activities, law enforcement, or possibly a system administrator at the app company.
End-to-end encryption (especially the way Signal implements it) means NO ONE can eavesdrop on your messages. Same thing with phone calls made via Signal due to its quality. When my wife and I were talking over Signal between Minnesota and Hong Kong I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of those calls while using the app on our iPhones (Signal is available for both iPhones and Android phones). It was better than if we had been talking over mobile connections (she was on good Wifi in her hotel, but often other voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) phones like the insecure Skype don’t sound very good).
SIGNAL FOR THE DESKTOP
Once you start using Signal you will probably come to the realization (like most Signal users do, I suspect) that it would sure be great to be able to use Signal on the desktop. Well now you can!
Signal is now an app for Google Chrome, the browser I use every day (Note: it does require that you have already set up Signal on your smartphone). Besides the computer version of Chrome, I also have two colleagues that use Chromebooks and now can use Signal on them.
You can connect the Chrome app with your smartphone’s Signal app by opening the app and instantly scanning a QR code. Once done you are connected and can even have your smartphone’s Signal app contacts imported in to your desktop version.
This is so easy to use and so secure that there really is no reason why you shouldn’t be using Signal right now.