Tradecraft: Phone Security 201

Washington, DC (TFC) – Activists today have access to technology that many could not even dream of not long ago.

Though many of the issues that plague our society are not new, the ability to record and publicize them easily in near real time is simply amazing. Most of us carry around a mobile computing device in our pocket that is capable of great feats, however this is merely the base upon which to build your toolkit.

The plethora of applications freely available for your use allow you to greatly expand your capability and reach beyond your personal social network, so it is important that you understand some of these tools and how they can help you in whatever fight you choose to undertake, whether it is against the abuse of State agents, a move toward justice for the oppressed, or whatever your calling may be. The first step in fully utilizing your mobile computing device, or “smart phone”, is some basic security measures. I recommend that you read and implement the simple measures introduced in the article “Tradecraft: Phone Security 101”.

Activists need to stay informed, and though we may want to rely on social media, there are severe limitations on this. Major social media platforms have taken steps to ensure that the news they do not wish to spread does not. For this reason, you need to rely on trusted alternative media outlets in order to get real information when the mainstream media is reporting celebrity gossip and other crap. For this reason, The Fifth Column has released the app Bridge Agent. It allows the user to instantly access a growing list of alternative media sites with reporting on matters of importance, as opposed to nonsense, or the State’s version of the story.

The next major use of the smart phone is communications. For this there are several applications worth looking at, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. With the common use of IMSI catchers, also known as stingray devices, by State agents and even local police departments in many parts of the US, the ability to encrypt your communications is vital to being effective. These devices act as a mobile cell phone tower, allowing the operating agency access to all the data sent through it, known as a man-in- the-middle attack. There is no simple way to use your phone without it being tracked, but you can encrypt your communications so as to prevent State eavesdropping.

Arguably, the best application for this is the Signal app from Open Whisper Systems. This app allows for end-to- end encryption at a high level for both calls and texts, to include multimedia messages. Additionally, this app allows for one to make calls and send and receive texts over Wi-Fi, when there is no cell signal available. Though you may send and receive messages from others who are not using the app, they will not be encrypted.

The Fifth Column secure messaging app Brush Pass has features that are great for activists attempting to organize event, and though the encryption is not as secure as that used by Signal, it will defeat stingray devices. Brush Pass gives the ability to use a username, rather than give out your phone number to others for the purpose of messaging. This combined with the ability to do group chats with up to 199 members with full multimedia functionality makes it a great go to for communicating with others on the fly. You can share audio or video clips with the group along with important information, and all without having to do so on an un secure forum such as a social media chatroom where the information and logs will be turned over to the State with a mere subpoena. Using a handle does not make you fully anonymous, but it does make it harder to track postings back to you later, and helps to keep your personal phone number secure.

The ability to livestream video is one that gives us great power. This prevents the video from being destroyed, so long as the phone itself is digitally secure. With this ability comes a great responsibility, as you do not want to be the one livestreaming footage that the State later uses as evidence against those in your movement. Of the livestreaming apps there are many to choose from, with Ustream, Bambuser, Facebook Live, Periscope, and Cell 411 being among the most popular. Facebook Live and Periscope both allow others to interact via text based chat with the videographer while the filming is taking place, which can be quite handy in many scenarios, such as police encounters. I recommend having several of these apps loaded on your device and being familiar with their use.

Image Source: Eduardo Woo, Flickr, Creative Commons Apps de mensajería

Image Source: Eduardo Woo, Flickr, Creative Commons
Apps de mensajería

One app that has a livestreaming function but was created as an emergency response app and is innovating new features regularly is Cell 411. With version 3 set to be released this summer, this app has the potential to drastically change the way people respond to developing emergencies.

The basic premise is that it is better to garner help from trusted neighbors, friends, family, or other activists in the case of an emergency than to call upon agents of the State who’s only tool is violence. You get to set up cells, or groups of people, to which you may send different types of alerts. A cell of activists for police encounters, a cell of nearby friends for car troubles, etc. The possibilities are endless. You can send an alert to the persons within that cell and anyone that wishes to respond will receive turn by turn directions to your location. It allows public alerts, and the use of public cells, as well. It also allows livestreaming, and unlike many other apps the livestreamed video can be downloaded and saved by those watching. Version 3 will have even more features added, including support for even more video streaming options, dependent only upon the user’s bandwidth, and the ability to share video on other platforms, such as Facebook,and much more. This is a app that has potential for everyone, from activists to the average person.

You cannot use a tool that you do not have available, and when you need it, it is too late to become familiar with it. Other apps worth looking into would include police scanner apps, if your local department’s frequency is available. For navigation the Waze app is great, as it uses crowd-sourcing to get traffic data as well as locations of revenue collectors. There are several great apps for recording phone calls, of which I prefer Automatic Call Recorder for its ease of use. Find the tools that work for you and become familiar with them to get the most effect from your efforts.