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Maximum security: Essential tools for everyday encryption

Fahmida Y. Rashid | Dec. 15, 2015
Thanks to technical advances and increased adoption, securing your data and communications is a lot easier than you might think.

Wickr’s popularity is also fueled by another layer of security it provides: Chats and photos delete themselves after a specified period of time. This extends to audio, video, and even documents pulled from cloud storage. Everything sent via Wickr is transmitted over encrypted channels and automatically removed after it expires. When law enforcement comes knocking, there’s nothing to hand over since the data is long gone.

Telegram is currently getting a bad rap because of reports that various terrorist groups and criminals use the app. It allows users to share encrypted media and messages with up to 200 people at once. The secret chats can bypass Telegram servers entirely, be stored only for a specified duration, or be stored securely for later retrieval.

Making encrypted voice calls

Buying a burner phone every time you want to make a phone call you don’t want traced back to you is a thing of the past, thanks to several new apps geared toward securing voice communications.

Signal, created by security researcher Moxie Marlinspike, lets users easily make encrypted voice calls and send encrypted messages on Android and iOS. (The Signal Desktop Chrome app, in beta, extends Signal’s secure messaging to the desktop.) A bonus to Signal is that the app lets users communicate with everyone on their contact lists. If the call recipient is not a Signal user, you will be warned that the call will not be encrypted, but you do not have to switch to your standard phone app to make the call, so the adoption process is even easier.

Open Whisper Systems, which makes Signal, recently partnered with WhatsApp to provide end-to-end encryption for the popular messaging app, but it’s not clear at the moment where that partnership stands. Even so, the popularity of apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat show there is a strong appetite for secure communications.

For a long time, people who were interested in making calls from the desktop had only Skype as a viable option. But Skype has been plagued by accusations that the U.S. government forced Microsoft to build a backdoor into the service. OStel, maintained by The Guardian Project, is a secure voice and video communication service available for both desktop and mobile users. Users have to create an account with OStel (no personal information is required) and download the appropriate software. CSipSimple and Linphone work with Ostel on Android and iOS devices, for example.

Both ends of the call, the caller and the recipient, must be using OStel. Also, OStel can’t make calls to landlines or SIM card phone numbers on cellular networks. One of the advantages of OStel is that it works on BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia, and Android devices, as well as on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. It also uses ZRTP, the same encryption protocol as the aforementioned Signal.


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