What apps are secure? For reasons, we can’t say that any digital technology could ever be considered 100% trustworthy. At the same time, most people can’t do all their organizing in person on backcountry camping trips, so we won’t say “just don’t use phones or computers.” What we will do is try to give you a way to decide how much to trust each of your devices and apps so you can make informed decisions about what to share with the apps that you use. When it comes to Trust, think shades of gray instead of black-and-white.
Think of the people you organize with. You probably don’t trust each person to the same degree and it probably doesn’t come down to the question of “I fully trust this person and I fully distrust these other people.” Whether you do so explicitly, you probably decide how much and what to share with different people, and you hopefully share information only on a “need-to-know” basis. If you had to 100% trust each and every person you work with, it would be nearly impossible to bring new people into our organizing groups.
We encourage you to think of the apps and devices you use in a similar light. When you use a device or share information with an app, you are effectively inviting them in to your affinity group. That app or device has access to all the information you share using it, and for some apps or platforms, this is a very bad idea – in particular, there are clear reasons why you should share as little information as possible with Google, Facebook, and other corporate platforms. This highlights the other side of the coin — it is sometimes easy to decide who and what to fully distrust.
That said, there are four apps that we trust to do many of the things that activists need to do. There are other apps that we recommend to varying degrees, but these four are easy to get started with quickly without much or any training. We trust them because they provide the strongest encryption available (end-to-end encryption when possible), work well on all standard devices, and are open-source (the only way to fully know how an app is designed and to understand all its features; also if a developer stops working on it or a company goes under, community developers can keep on updating and improving the app forever!) —
- Wire provides group text/chat (100+ people), voice conference calls (max 10 people) and one-on-one video. We like it because it is open source, end-to-end encrypted, and doesn’t require you to share your phone number or have a smartphone at all (unlike Signal). It takes a little time to learn to use compared with Signal (which is still good to have as a backup/alternate communications app for people you already share phone numbers with). Wire, like Signal, allows you to authenticate your contacts, so you can be sure that you are talking directly to who you think you are talking to, and no-one else.
- Tor browser is the best choice for anonymous web browsing. It’s open source, cross-platform (OrFox on android, Onion Browser on iPhone).
- KeepassXC is a password manager that we like to use to generate strong passwords and random passphrases. It is open source and works on Mac, Windows and Linux. An advantage/disadvantage is that it doesn’t (easily) store your passwords in the cloud. It’s safer this way, but you need to be sure you’re safely backing up your password file!
- Cryptpad is for real-time, collaborative document editing and is the only choice that is open source and end-to-end encrypted – so you don’t need to trust the server since they don’t know what you’re writing. It works on most devices, but seems to have a hard time on iPhone.
Note that we still like and trust GPG using Thunderbird+Enigmail, but we cover this elsewhere.
You can never fully guarantee (digital) security.
- No device can be considered 100% safe. They can be out of date, have malware, get lost, etc. etc. They are incredibly complex, as in Death-Star-level complex, which no human fully understands or even has full access to (very few if any open source devices exist) so it is impossible to anticipate all potential security vulnerabilities.
- Different adversaries have different capabilities. Three-letter agencies have capabilities that we might not know about for years, if ever. A random extortionist, vengeful tech-savvy ex or neighborhood Nazi may use more personalized methods of attack. Mercenaries and corporate security may have fewer legal restrictions.
- We don’t have an inventory of all the hacking tools local/state/federal cops have at their disposal, nor clear guidelines for when they’re willing to use them. Not to mention what corporate spooks can and would do.
- But don’t let this get you down! There is much you can do that makes it easy to make the lives of your adversaries miserable (making it difficult or expensive, or risky to attack you) and keep your info, communications, and movements much safer.