Communicating in a fast and modern way brings with it the possibility of privacy invasion and security concerns. Whether it be a large technology company snooping for demographic data or a government monitoring speech, communication is far from private.
The questions regarding privacy and security of communication has been the catalyst for a marketplace of secure apps touting their encryption. Looking to recent decades, people doing illicit activity knew to avoid the phones and encrypt hand-written letters.
Here's a run-down of 10 common means of communication available and how secure they are:
10. Social Media
Even my grandmother can see what you are writing on social media. Facebook has been the elephant in the room for privacy in social media. This elephant has broken countless plates with scandal after scandal regarding privacy. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and nearly every other social site have messaging features, but their security is questionable.
Secure Option: Social media sites that have marketed themselves as a secure alternate exist. Nextdoor requires an address verification. This makes it private with regards to the location of people reading your messages. Ironically, this privacy does come at the cost of brands hyper-targeting messages to you based on location.
Email breaches happen all the time. Just recently, 773 million Outlook emails were breached. Breaches are so common, a site lets people see if their email is one of the nearly 8 billion email addresses on record that have been compromised.
Beyond breaches, emails are also subject to advertising and data analysis. Emails for personal use like Gmail come with default settings that allow for advertisers to reach you based on your email content. Emails from a company can be viewed by IT and management if desired.
Secure Option: Some email providers like Proton Mail provide secure encryption and guarantee no scraping by advertisers.
8. Phone Calls
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Your phone could be tapped by law enforcement if given a warrant. Passive surveillance could be taking place on your phone and your call records and data might be collected. In many jurisdictions, recording phone calls is legal as long as one party is aware. Data stored on your phone and records of calls can be hacked using a little bit of social engineering and spoofing, in the form of SIM Card Hijacking. The multitude of ways a phone itself or a call could be intercepted make it vulnerable.
Secure Option: In movies, the characters with secret information are looking for a "secure link". In real-life, that secure link exists if there is end-to-end encryption between authenticated devices. Look for providers who have those capabilities.
7. Chat Apps
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Chat programs provide quick conversations for those not looking pick up the phone or walk around. These are often used on both desktop and mobile devices. The elements of security for these chat apps are similar to cell phone calls if used on a mobile device. Most chat applications have encryption, but are also vulnerable to SIM Hijacking and the person on the other end of the communication being unsecure.
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This one has the added bonus of being able to use radio lingo like "over and out" or "10-4". Radios provide a lower tech method of voice communication. If messages are transmitted without encrypted, they can be picked up by anyone with a radio. Even encrypted messages leak some data. The standard in 2-way radios has come under scrutiny for being insecure. However, the more antiquated elements of radio makes it more hidden from modern eyes.
5. Pay Phone
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There is some added difficulty for accessing one of these dying devices. If you can make a call from a pay phone, there likely won't be any tracking on your side. The person on the other end of the line could be insecure still.
4. Handwritten Note
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It is illegal to tamper with the mail. That legal safeguard protects your mail from most prying eyes. However, undeliverable or lost mail can occur. in 2010, 4.7% of mail was undeliverable as addressed. The amount of lost mail cannot be determined. If your mail can make it through in tact, then the privacy of the message remains secure. To keep it secure end-to-end, ask the recipient to shred the note after reading.
Secure Option: Using a security-focused delivery service kicks up the security and privacy.
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Much like the pay-phone and 2-way radio, fax machines are a throwback to the analog past. These devices are not encrypted except in unique government situations. However, the process to intercept a fax machine is daunting since the system of transmissions is outside of the Internet. The actual phone line the fax was sent on must be breached in order to get a message. However, someone could always have their fax machines stolen or snag the fax from the machine, so the security of the machine is important. As with the notes, shred the fax to keep it secure.
2. Hidden Messages
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A conspicuous message can be secure if the target of the message is not known. Sometimes the most obvious messages are right in front our faces. Graffiti that is passed by thousands of people can hold a meaning for the intended targets.
A visible message can also be hidden in anything from a book to a billboard. A light-hearted example is the messages hidden in logos. Another term for these messages is "easter eggs" to denote the surprise of finding a hidden message. What secret messages might be hiding in plain sight, holding meaning only to those in the know?
The difficulty in designing these methods of communication is high, but the security of secrecy can be worth the reward.
1. Face-to-Face Conversation
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The most secure method of communication brings us to back the beginning. Simply talking face-to-face cuts out the other dangers of privacy. Someone could be eavesdropping. To avoid having your conversations recorded, investigate a device that muffles recording devices. To avoid stealthy lip readers, cover your mouth. Speaking face-to-face in coded language or another language also dials up the security.
Notice a theme in the order? Communication that takes place away from the watchful eye of a modern computer is off-the-grid and thus protected from digital surveillance. If you use a digital device to communicate, ensure that there is end-to-end encryption and the person receiving the message is authenticated.