The 10 apps you need to keep prying eyes away from your mobile messages and data

The 10 apps you need to keep prying eyes away from your mobile messages and data

Summary: Maintaining privacy online seems almost impossible, but there are a tools that can minimise the chances of your personal, financial or business data falling into the wrong hands.

TOPICS: Security, Apps, Privacy

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  • Ongoing revelations about government agencies snooping on citizens' electronic communications has led to more privacy-awareness among mobile users. Here ZDNet takes a look at 10 apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, or BlackBerry that can boost mobile privacy.


    Wickr is often compared to Snapchat, but has made security and privacy its key feature.

    Wickr, which just landed $9m in funding, claims to uses military grade encryption, perfect forward secrecy and, for self-destructing messages, forensic shredding.

    Unlike many social apps, Wickr claims in its privacy policy that it doesn't collect any user location data; and besides lawful government requests, the only data it shares with a third party is the user's phone number with the company which sends confirmation SMS for Wickr's ID Connect, the feature that allows users to be found by their friends.

    One of the challenges around privacy for social apps is that 'find friends' features can often undermine it. It's usually done by sucking up a device's contact list to the company's servers where it can be cross-referenced against other users on the service. How it's sent and stored can impact user privacy.

    According to Wickr: "if you use Find Friends, the Wickr App will send a disguised representation of your contacts phone number and email address to our servers, at which point our server will check that representation against our database to see whether that contact has an associated Wickr ID."

    Wickr is available free for iOS and Android. The company plans on monetising the app by charging its top three percent of users for premium features.

  • Text Secure

    Text Secure by Open Whisper Systems (OWS) is the messaging sibling of OWS' encrypted voice app RedPhone, and offers encrypted SMS, MMS and instant messaging.

    Until recently, Text Secure was purely for encrypted SMS and MMS, but OWC recently introduced new features that bring it up to par with IM apps that communicate over data networks. Users can create private chat groups with the same end to end encryption previously offered with TextSecure SMS chats.

    OWS compares it to an encrypted version of Apple's iMessage. TextSecure is a normal SMS/MMS app when communicating with non-TextSecure users, but sends messages encrypted over a data network when both are TextSecure users.

    The app is not available for Windows but it's coming soon to iOS. OWS' chief engineer Moxie Marlinspike recent worked with the CyanogenMod team to bring it to the popular custom ROM, which means that Android and soon iOS users can connect securely with friends running it.

    As a social app, Text Secure faces the usual privacy challenges in building a social network through find friend features.

    "The simplest way to calculate the intersection of registered users and device contacts is to upload all the contacts in the address book to the service, index them, reverse index them, send the client the intersection, and subsequently notify the client when any of those contacts later register," Marlinspike noted in a recent post on the find friend conundrum.

    'Encrypted bloom filters' could allow that process to happen privately on the end-user's device, but the file would be impractically large for TextSecure's user base of 10 million, according to Marlinspike.

    Meanwhile, the finite possible mobile numbers meant hashes of them could be easily guessed.

    "For RedPhone, our user base is still manageable enough (for now) to use the bloom filter technique. For TextSecure, however, we've grown beyond the size where that remains practical, so the only thing we can do is write the server such that it doesn’t store the transmitted contact information, inform the user, and give them the choice of opting out," Marlinspike noted.

  • BoxCryptor

    BoxCryptor, a German company, has Android and iOS apps that help the user encrypt files on the fly before uploading to a cloud. The app supports sending encrypted files to Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive Box, and others using WebDAV.

    The free app offers encryption and support for one provider. The paid and enterprise versions support multiple providers.

    BoxCryptor plans to release encryption its app for Windows Phone, Windows RT, and Blackberry 10 by the end of this quarter.

Topics: Security, Apps, Privacy

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • You forgot TigerText ;)

    TigerText is the leader in simplifying and securing enterprise messages. Definitely another great app (free to download for iOS and Android) for keeping prying eyes away from your mobile messages.