How to encrypt your Android communications to prevent spying and stop thieves

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Credit: Jason Cross

Thieves, scammers, the government...is there any end to the people who want to acquire your personal information? It used to be that stealing someone's info required actually mugging them, but these days, it’s a lot easier to peer in on someone's communications than it is to whack them over the head in a dark alley.

Encryption is one protective tool at your disposal. It scrambles your data so nobody can listen in. Hotspots, chat, voice, email, and texts can all be encrypted through Android-available tools.

Public Wi-Fi networks

Hotspots can be spoofed, leading you to connect to data-sucking criminals lurking nearby. Plus, data is inherently insecure when it’s wafting around coffee shops and other public networks.

There’s a simple way to protect yourself though, and that’s to camouflage your wireless data via encryption along with creating a private tunnel through the Internet.

It’s called a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

VPNs can be used to encrypt all of your public hotspot data traffic, including bank transactions, and so on. And it also conveniently protects those celebrities amongst us from prying gossip-vendors.

Search for VPNs in the Google Play store. Private Tunnel will give you 100MB of data transfer to try it out. Thereafter a 50GB chunk is $12.

Voice calls and texts

If you’re concerned that the interception of your phone calls by world leaders, human rights groups, or your spouse may create a diplomatic incident, you can encrypt your calls and texts.

Open source, mobile privacy developer, the Guardian Project, has been working on a number of solutions. One is Ostel, an encrypted voice-calling tool that’s in public test-bed mode.

You can experiment with it for free by creating an account at the Ostel website, and downloading and configuring calling-app CSipSimple.

Silent Circle’s Silent Phone and Silent Text apps are robust alternatives. Silent Circle is behind Blackphone, the upcoming hardened Android phone.

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Silent Phone encryption status.

The Silent Circle Mobile package, which also includes video, and 100 MB document sending costs $10 a month. 

Orbot

Encrypting your communications doesn't necessarily require handing over monthly fees, though. That’s too capitalistic for the average oppressed dissident. If you are one, and want to explore the world of encrypted comms on the cheap, you can always use Orbot

Orbot scrambles your Internet traffic, and then bounces it around the world using Tor.

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Verify your traffic is being routed through Tor.

Bouncing hides your originating location. Coupling that with encryption helps create secure communications.

There are individual Orbot apps for web browsing, chat, and email.

ChatSecure is Orbot’s Android chat client, and it’s supposed to function through common chat protocols, like Google, Bonjour, or Jabber.

However, ChatSecure failed to work with Google accounts when I tried it, so you might want to try some of the other Orbot apps before taking on that project. I’d start with the Orweb browser, and move on to Ostel voice calling. Both worked in my tests.

Email

Android Privacy Guard, or APG, is a simple OpenPGP solution for encrypting your email (it’s easier to use than the Guardian Project’s Gnu Privacy Guard) and great for derailing any attempted hacker eavesdropping of your latest corporate acquisition, as can happen when you’re not careful.

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Manage your keys with APG, then use an encryption-friendly email app to send secure mail.

Use the APG app alongside encryption-friendly Android email client app K-9. Create and manage keys in APG. Then use K-9 to compose emails. Choose encryption, along with your APG-stored keys as an email sending option.

Communications downsides

Once you’ve got your head around the idea that both the sender and recipient has to have a key to encrypt, decrypt, and sign emails and the like, it’s not hard to implement encryption for your daily correspondence.

The main drawback to communicating with encryption is that both parties must have encryption-enabled apps for private communications to work securely. This is a particularly intrusive issue when it comes to voice calls.

If you’re a lawyer, say, and want to have a private voice conversation with your neighborhood whistleblower, you’ll both need to install a compatible app—and purchase plans—before discussing some dastardly multinational’s evil deeds, like groundwater contamination. That’s if you want to be sure the suits don’t listen in.

Backdoors

And finally, here’s a warning: Government-requested back-doors are not unheard of in encryption tools.

So, watch out, or you might just find yourself living in a Russian airport for a while.

This story, "How to encrypt your Android communications to prevent spying and stop thieves" was originally published by Greenbot.

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