After Rupert Murchoch’s News of the World hacking scandal, we offer up a few tips for securing your smartphone’s data and dealing with the totalitarian potential of GPS tracking.
Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World may have been the transgressor in the UK hacking scandal, but do not forget for a minute that this behavior was never investigated and was tacitly condoned by Murchoch’s NewsCorp—how else could he have explained News of the World’s ability to get intel?
We already know governments are after the power to peer into smartphone users’ private data and track them via GPS, and now we have glaring proof of a corporation’s similar intent. And if one corporation is willing and able to hack individuals’ private data and track them via GPS, one can certainly bet that other corporations are up to near similar machinations.
And so we present a few ideas for helping secure smartphones and render users (relatively) invisible despite GPS tracking.
1. Don’t Store Sensitive Data on Smartphones
This one might seem rather obvious, but it’s the easiest way of ensuring that some pricks like Rupert Murdoch’s stooges won’t hack a phone and sniff around for information. If a Blackberry, iPhone or Android phone routes a email account to the phone, once the email has been read, delete them as needed. If anything communication is very personal, delete it from the phone. Remember: The email is always accessible via the internet from a computer, but make sure your email account and phone aren’t synced to delete.
Adding an encrypted password to your phone will not only prevent people from accessing the data contained therein, it doubles as a way of guarding your 5th Amendment right to self-incrimination.
It’s currently being argued in a federal Colorado court by Attorney Phil Debois that an encrypted password—a password that lies in one’s mind—is equivalent to the 5th Amendment right to self-incrimination.
3. Disable Location Services or ‘Geotagging’
In an iPhone for instances, users can go to ‘Settings’ menu, select ‘General,’ then scroll down to ‘Location Services’ and select ‘Off.’ (To turn off Geotagging on a Blackberry, Android or Palm phone, visit I Can Stalk U.)
This will disable Geotagging, which attaches latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates to metadata such as photos, SMS text messages, photos, websites, etc. By default, it seems that most smartphones Geotag photos or videos. And this metadata is then stored on the smartphone, making it accessible to a devious hacker—like Rupert Murdoch’s employees, for instance.
And, certainly, one could very well keep the Geotag option on, but opt to be smart about photos and videos recorded and stored on phones. (And, as noted in the first entry above: don’t store the data. Delete it.)
4. Use Encrypted Apps on Your Smartphone to Securely Store Information
Owners of iPhones and iPads can purchase Private Data and Ben the Bodyguard, both of which securely store and encrypt private data such as photos, emails, videos, etc. Ben the Bodyguard even has a graphic novel aesthetic that sort of goes with the secret world of encryption.
The Android App Pocket offers essentially the same thing, allowing “you to safely store all your sensitive data such as bank account details and passwords on your phone. Pocket is also useful for remembering all those bits and pieces of information in one place from frequent flier numbers to contact lens prescriptions.”
Windows phones offer SecuBox for security and encryption.
5. Beware Fake Apps & the Download Source
With the explosion in Apps comes the existence and proliferation of fake Apps—apps disguised as games, for instance, that mask a malware program that mines a smartphone’s data and sends it to a remote location. Fake apps can pilfer a smartphone user’s phonebook, images, video, etc.
To guard against fake Apps, be sure that the site from which an app is downloaded is legitimate and that one doesn’t download an App sent via text or email from a friend. A hacker can pose as a friend and send fake App malware via text and email and users will be none the wiser.
On top of these tips, one can always download security software for a smartphone to create an added layer of protection.
Another option now is Orbot, an Android App created by the Tor project.
“Orbot is an application that allows mobile phone users to access the web, instant messaging and email without being monitored or blocked by their mobile internet service provider. Orbot brings the features and functionality of Tor to the Android mobile operating system.”
To read more about Tor Relays, read my article “The Tor Challenge: Help Strengthen Anonymous Online Activism.”