Skip to main content

Industrial-strength security: protecting against governments and police

Published onMar 31, 2020
Industrial-strength security: protecting against governments and police

If you have reason to think a government or police force might be snooping on your legitimate communications—you’re a whistleblower, you’re organizing a protest or labor movement, you’re a member of a group that is surveilled by the police or government without reason, you’re trying to get out of an abusive relationship with someone in law enforcement, or you’re friends or family with someone who is doing any of these—you will need more industrial-strength protection on top of the other tools I’ve mentioned on this site. Here are a few things to set up:

Chat privately

Signal is a chat app that protects your communications with someone else using encryption. Here’s how to set up Signal without giving your actual phone number, thanks to Martin Shelton. Signal is available on Android, iPhone, Mac, and PC.

If you need group chats, you could also try Wire or Delta Chat, which do a little better on the group front. Delta Chat requires you to have an email address.

Video chat privately

Jitsi Meet does group video chats in your browser, like Google Hangouts/Duo, Zoom, or Skype. It encrypts your call. Here are some trustworthy sites where you can set up a Jitsi call.

Protect your phone number

Burner is an app for iPhone and Android that lets you make calls without revealing what number you are calling from. Numbers you call also do not end up on your phone bill.

Protect your accounts

For an added layer of protection for your social media, email, and other accounts, make sure you set up additional forms of authentication (called MFA or 2FA).

Share files securely

To send someone a large file with encryption, so it can’t be seen by prying eyes, use Firefox Send, Tresorit, or Riseup’s file sharing service. Or use the Onion Share file sharing app on Mac or Windows.

Work on documents together safely

For alternatives to Google Docs and other ways to share documents and collaborate on them with others, try CryptPad, which encrypts documents for you. Note that unless you register with them (it’s free and you don’t have to give identifying information), they will delete your documents if you haven’t accessed them for three months. And do keep in mind that anyone who has the link to these documents can see and edit them, so protect your links and only share them carefully.

Share a calendar safely

If you’d like to switch from Microsoft or Google calendars to something encrypted, try Tutanota’s calendar service. They offer shared calendars and integration with their email.

Hide your web browsing from prying eyes

You may have heard of Tor, which anonymizes your web traffic so nobody can tell what sites you’re going to. You’ll want to use it instead of Safari, Chrome, Edge, or whatever other browser you are using to visit websites. Get the Tor browser here for Windows, Mac, or Android. On iOS, use Onion Browser.

NOTE, however, that Tor is not a magical invisibility cloak. If you log into your Facebook page using Tor and post to it, the posts will still clearly be coming from you. Same goes for any of your other accounts—email, social media, and otherwise. Tor may also stick out as suspicious traffic if you are using it on a work or school network, so you may be better off using it at home or over public wifi (and do use a VPN when you use public wifi).

Here’s how to use Tor on a Mac and on Windows.

Email securely

Encrypted email can protect your messages from people who might be trying to look at them in between you and the person you’re sending to. Here’s the thing, though: it has to be a two-way street if you want the protection of encryption for your email. Whoever you’re sending to also needs to use a service for encrypted email, so they can open and read the messages.

If you’re up for switching to a new email service, try Protonmail or Tutanota. If you’re not, you can use Mailvelope as an add-on to Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and a few other webmail services.

Leave no trace that you’ve used a computer

Tails is an operating system (like Windows or MacOS) that starts up from a USB stick, then erases all traces that you used that computer. It can encrypt your files, email, and IMs, and help you use the internet anonymously and get around censorship.

Here’s how to install Tails on Windows and Mac. You’ll need 1.1GB of free space on your computer, as well as a blank USB stick (one you can totally erase) with a minimum of 8GB of space.

For more steps you can take to protect your digital security and privacy, see the rest of this site’s resources and pick up a copy of Keep Calm and Log On.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?