How to protect your SMS text messages from the NSA

Why

Because the NSA and GCHQ have been revealed to be collecting (and keeping) all text messages we send/receive on our mobile phones: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/16/nsa-collects-millions-text-messages-daily-untargeted-global-sweep

If you are thinking “so what? I have nothing to hide“, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments area below. To prove that you really have nothing to hide please also include your full name and home address.

How

Are you using an Android phone? (if you’re not sure, look for a “Google Play” icon somewhere, it looks like this:

Google Play logo

If you’ve got this icon, you are using an Android phone)

  1. Install the free TextSecure app by OpenWhisperSystems.
  2. Tell all your friends with Android phones to do the same.
  3. Open the TextSecure app and setup a very simple password – don’t worry, you will disable it immediately.
  4. Hit the “menu” button -> Settings -> select “Disable Passphrase”
  5. That’s it! Now text your contacts as normal. If any of them happen to be using TextSecure, the app will ask them:
    You have received a message from someone who supports TextSecure encrypted sessions. Would you like to initiate a secure session?
    They should click the “Initiate Exchange” button.
  6. Any messages you send or receive from your TextSecure contacts with whom you have “Initiated Exchange” will now be encrypted and unreadable to the NSA and their friends.

No Android phone? In that case you are out of luck. You cannot currently protect the content of your SMS text messages. Might be time to complain to the phone manufacturer for some built-in privacy features for a change?

The best alternative you have right now, if you have a data plan and can be connected to the Internet most of the time, is to use the free ChatSecure app by The Guardian Project. ChatSecure gives you unlimited instant messages (IM) with your friends. Unlike WhatsApp, Viber, Google Hangouts, Facebook, Skype, Y! messenger etc, ChatSecure can make your messages unreadable to the NSA and their friends. ChatSecure works on Android phones as well as iPhones.

Note: Even when using TextSecure, the NSA (and your mobile service provider) will know who you texted and who texted you. This “metadata” cannot be hidden, it’s just the way the SMS texting service works. The best you can do right now is to hide the content of your text messages, and TextSecure does that very well.

2 thoughts on “How to protect your SMS text messages from the NSA

  1. very interesting article…

    i was wondering whether there’s any app or solution that encrypts the texts/calls
    even when the other side has not installed the app.

    • No. If that was the case, anyone would be able to read/listen to your “encrypted” content. It is necessary for both sides to use the same technology.

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