How to Lead a Double Life Online and Not Get Caught
Updated Sep 30, 2013 The Internet allows us to form new identities and express controversial ideas without fear of personal reprisal. It allows us to explore interests that would be misunderstood by friends and family and discuss experiences that may damage our career.
There are many reasons to want to create a pseudonymous identity online. You may have undergone a traumatic experience you don’t feel comfortable talking about in public. You may be the head of a stuffy art museum, but love writing Doctor Who fan-fiction. You may want to write a scandalous tell-all blog. Or you may be a rabid democrat living in an extremely-conservative small town. You may just find it liberating to be freed from the biases society holds against your offline life or background.
The first step is to begin using Tor. Tor is a free browser that obscures your IP address by using onion proxy software that provides multi-layer encryption. While not tied to you, personally, your IP address is associated with your individual computer, hence a skilled individual may use your IP address to discover your offline identity. This is why it is important to not rely on services like Chrome’s incognito mode to attempt to live your double life online; while it will prevent websites from storing things on your computer, it will not hide your IP address.
To download the Tor Browser Bundle, which includes everything you need to browse the net anonymously, visit Tor’s website and follow their instructions (also read up on using Tor properly- there are some things you can do using Tor that might still reveal your identity if you are not careful). You should use Tor Browser for all of your secret online activities. It may run a bit slower (as your interactions with other sites are bounced through at least three relays), but it is better to be safe and slow than speedy and sorry.
Use Tor for regular activities as well. This mitigates risk associated with others noticing your browser choice. When questioned about Tor, simply say you use Tor Browser because of concerns about privacy, which have been exacerbated because of this year’s revelations about the NSA.
How to Lay the Foundation of Your Double Life Most online accounts require an email address. It should go without saying that you should not be using your personal email address when doing anything related to your pseudonymous identity. Instead, you should create a separate email that has no connection to your normal identity and is only used in connection to your covert activities.
I recommend using a free service such as Hushmail, Gmail, or Riseup.net to create this account rather than Yahoo or Hotmail, as the latter options include the IP address of the computer used to send a particular message. While this matters less when you are using Tor, you may still find yourself in a situation in which you need to check that account without the browser’s protection, hence more secretive email providers are better.
Tips on Developing Sound and Secretive Habits With Tor Browser and a designated email account, you are free to live out your double life- so long as you do so carefully.
Never ever use a work computer for secretive activities. I don’t care how encrypted your work communications are. Company-owned computers are not to be trusted. Keylogging software, which will make all of your careful precautions amount to nothing, is only one of many potential complications.
Avoid using mobile devices. They can be lost. They can be stolen. Strangers (or worse yet, friends, family, and colleagues) can more easily look over your shoulder or snatch your device out of your hands. If you must conduct some of your double life through a mobile device, make sure it is password protected, only use it in private spaces, and bolster it with additional privacy protections, which, for the sake of brevity, I recommend you find independently.
If your double life involves posting content (e.g. blog posts about your secret ventures as an undercover nun), schedule your posts (many blogging platforms offer this functionality) so that they are published at random intervals that cannot be associated with a specific time zone or lifestyle. Do not tag photos, posts, or tweets with your location.
Important Identifying Information to Hide Obvious information that might be used to determine who you are (eg. your name or the names of people in your life, your personal email address, identifying photos. etc.) is but a small factor to consider. Most secret identities are discovered by those who use more subtle hints to piece together your personal puzzle.
Don’t give away hints by even letting your pseudonym resemble your real name. If your name is John Doe, your online handle should be entirely different, like Shane Kugel (and not J.D. or Shawn Moe). Be extremely careful about mentioning employers in a manner that would enable the casual viewer to narrow your real employer down to a couple of candidates (e.g. “I work for a pet grooming salon in San Francisco, California”). Also be mindful with regard to any habits, sayings, or possessions you might mention (e.g. a storm trooper figurine kept at your desk) that could be identified by those who know you in real life.
If you maintain a website, make your WHOIS information private. If you do not, everything from your name to your email, phone number, and address may show up in WHOIS queries (just search for your friends’ domains to get an idea of the information that might be revealed). Subscribe to The Morning Email. Wake up to the day’s most important news.
Should you be involved in commerce, opt for trades whenever possible. Gift cards might be a convenient form of currency, so long as you keep the value of transactions below $500. Generally speaking, money is difficult to keep anonymous online- even when Bitcoin is used.
The Importance Leaving No Trace Whenever you finish a session of secretive internet activity, your computer should be devoid of damning information. While it helps that you are using Tor, it is also important that you delete any files from your computer related to your pseudonymous identity (e.g. drafts of blog posts, photos, etc.) before you get up and walk away.
You never know who might poke around your desktop when you aren’t looking, and you would be surprised by how many friends and family members know the passwords to their loved ones’ machines.
Good Luck! This brief guide is an introduction, not a comprehensive playbook. Its recommended tactics will help you avoid major mistakes and may accommodate “harmless” double lives, but if you are involved in some serious whistle blowing activity, fighting against a totalitarian government, or are threatening to take down a beloved member of 4Chan, you’re playing an entirely different ballgame.
It’s not always obvious what you’re dreams are telling you, but the art (and science) of dream interpretation can set you on the right path. Herein, we’ve rounded up the expert dream interpretations and dream meanings of common dreams.
Everyone dreams. Whether they’re remembered or not, dreams occur when the brain enters a state of rapid eye movement (R.E.M., like the band) sleep. The occurrence is natural, subconscious, and, if you take it from the National Sleep Foundation, happens up to six times per night to fully-grown adults. And yet, despite the ubiquity of dreams, few people know what they actually mean.
Enter dream interpretation, an ancient art and—recently, thanks to a parade of well-degreed researchers entering the field—actual science that aims to create a collective understanding of what we’re all seeing on a nightly basis. But what are your dreams telling you? What does it mean when you dream about someone specific? From endless falling to alien abductions to that naked-in-a-crowd nightmare, some of the more common dreams out there mean things. And no, it’s not always crystal clear, at first, what they’re trying to say. But if you know how to analyze them, you’ll discover some fascinating insights into yourself—and the world around you. Here’s how to start.
What does it mean when you dream about someone?
If you dream about someone you like (or even love!) it could just go to show how passionate you are about them. But there’s also some nuance here. If you dream your partner is with someone else, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been unfaithful. It could simply mean you no longer feel as passionate about your life as the people around you seem to feel about theirs.
What does it mean when you die in a dream?
If you die in a dream, or feel like you are dying, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are afraid of dying in life or have some terminal illness you didn’t realize. It may just mean that something in your life is coming to an end: “Dreaming about death often means that you feel something is coming to an end in your life,” says Anderson. “But that being said, how you react to the death in the dream can mean different things.”
What does it mean when you die in a dream, but feel peace about it?
If you experience death in a dream and you feel at peace with it, Anderson says that, “you have an ‘out with the old and in with the new’ attitude” and “it could be something that you’re ready to let go from.”
What does it mean when you dream about being scared of dying?
Alternately, if you feel a pang of anxiety or even panic at the thought of death in your dream (or, as Anderson puts it, “I need to resuscitate this thing that is falling apart”), it may be that “you’re not quite there yet” and uncomfortable with letting go.
What does it mean when you dream your teeth are falling out?
It may be that events in your life are swirling around you in a way that you feel you have no control, or that you’ve lost a job and with it, your feeling that you were guiding the direction of events has dissipated. The result might be that you dream of losing your teeth. As Wallace tells The Independent, “Your teeth symbolize how confident and powerful you feel, so some situation is causing your confidence to crumble in waking life.”
What does it mean when you dream about birds?
This dream could mean you’re hoping to hear from someone. Birds have been symbolic messengers of information going back centuries and their appearance in your dreams can still be an indication that you are expecting to hear from someone or receive a message. Psychologist and dream expert Michael Lennox points to beliefs going back to Nordic mythology, where Odin, the head of the pantheon, was accompanied by a pair of all-seeing ravens that “would travel through the world of men and bring back important information.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re on a plane?
If you’re dreaming of flying in a plane or air travel in some way, your dream is trying to tell you that you are feeling the effects of fast changes in your life. Lennox explains in his book Dream Sight: A Dictionary and Guide for Interpreting AnyDream that, “Because of the dramatic way an airplane leaves the ground and speeds toward a destination, it is connected with any sudden transition in life.” It may not just be alerting you to the fact that you are going through serious changes, but that change “is needed or wished for. As a plane is our world’s fastest mode of public transportation, it connects symbolically to those moments in life where change is rapid and total.”
What does it mean when you dream about an alien encounter?
According to Lennox, seeing an alien (as in one of those big-eyed, willowy creatures from The X-Files) in a dream reflects some unknown or mysterious part of your own personality. Whether you are encountering it in an everyday situation or have been abducted in the dream, “The more fear you feel in the dream, the more frightened you may be of the changes that are occurring.”
One (or more) of your limbs is amputated: You feel diminished or unable to get to a different place in life.
Lennox notes that amputations or missing limbs are a typical theme that appear in one’s dreams, and indicate some sense of lacking in ability or mobility. If you’re missing feet it “relates to an inability to be grounded on your path, whereas missing an entire leg or both legs connects to being completely stopped on your path.”
What does it mean when you dream you’ve (literally) lost your head?
A more extreme kind of missing body part that you might experience is the loss of your head. According to Lennox, that’s a sign of “an eradication of a thought process, or to your sense of identity.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re in bed with a coworker?
If you are being intimate with a coworker in your dream, it does not necessarily mean you have a crush on them. According to dream analyst and the host of The Dream Show podcast, Jane Teresa Anderson, it may say more about them having “positive qualities you admire” that you “welcome in your own life.” That’s right: your dirty dream could be about admiration—not lust!
What does it mean when you dream you’re in an empty room?
Psychologist Ian Wallace, who has interpreted no fewer than 150,000 dreams over his three decades of practice, has found that unused or empty rooms that you dream about might be telling you that you’ve got untapped talents. As he told The Independent, “The more time that you spend exploring your dormant talents, the more likely that you will find other doors opening for you in waking life.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re in an empty room, and it’s scary?
If that unused room is accompanied by feelings of discomfort or fear, it might represent something very different, according to Anderson: “If you go into the room and it’s spooky or scary, that means in the past one to two days you’ve realized something about yourself that’s unexpected. It can be something old that you haven’t look at before. It could be any aspect of your life—your job, a relationship—that you’ve shut the door on. It’s about trying to open that door, even if you’re scared.”
What does it mean when you dream there’s an out-of-control car?
If you’ve got an out-of-control car in your dreams—maybe you’re trapped in one or have one coming at you—it may mean that “you don’t have enough control over your road to success,” according to Wallace. He suggests, “Instead of trying to over control the situation…relax your grip and allow your fundamental instincts and drives to steer the best path for you.”
What does it mean when you dream there’s a car, but it’s not out-of-control?
But a car in one’s dreams could indicate the opposite, as well. Wallace explains that, “The car represents your ability to make consistent progress toward a specific objective.” So if a dream features a car progressing steadily and consistently, things might be moving along just as they should be in your life.
What does it mean when you dream your car is missing?
Sometimes you might dream that you are missing your car or on the search for it. The lack of a car has a symbolic resonance about one’s career or ability to get where we want to go, according to Wallace. “If we dream about searching for our car, then we have lost our drive and ambition in waking life and are looking for ways to recover it and continue on our journey.”
What does it mean when you dream there are animals nearby?
Animals can often appear in your dream and can vary in their significance or what they make you feel—a fierce bear is going to indicate something distinct from a high-flying hawk. But according to Lennox, any time an animal appears it may be an indication that your dream is “asking you to stop trying to think your way through a situation and turn instead toward your instinctive nature for an answer.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re in an attic?
Having a house in your dream usually connects back to your sense of self, with different rooms representing different aspects of yourself, so dreaming of an attic usually relates to your intellect or memories—and a “musty, dirty atmosphere means you are in realms that you haven’t visited in a while,” according to Lennox, which can indicate “unhealthy avoidance.”
What does it mean when you dream about having a baby?
Dreaming about a baby is usually a sign that you are reflecting on burgeoning potential or “some new chapter in your life that is just beginning and has yet to unfold into full manifestation,” as Lennox puts it. Of course, since a baby is also helpless and needs to be cared for, Lennox also emphasizes that an infant in a dream brings up thoughts of the “intense responsibilities associated with” a baby.
What does it mean when you dream you can’t find your shoes?
If your dream consists of you being literally unable to find your shoes, chances are you’re having difficulty deciding what your position is on a topic—an important decision you have to make or may be faced with, something that causes you to “consider [your] values and where [you] stand in a certain situation.”
What does it mean when you dream you lost something valuable—and can’t find it?
If we’ve misplaced something of value in our dream or spend the dream trying to find something and fail to do it, it may be that we feel a sense of lower value in our life. As Wallace puts it, “If we are looking for our purse or wallet, then we are reflecting on our value to others as we may feel that we have lost some self-esteem in waking life.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re searching for someone?
If you dream you’re searching for someone, it doesn’t always have to do with that person, specifically. “When we search for other people in our dreams, we are trying to reconnect with aspects of our own identities that we have lost touch with.”
What does it mean when you dream you have suddenly become very wealthy?
If you have a dream about striking it rich or winning the lottery, you’re feeling pretty good about life or have gained a “sudden awareness of the richness of the self,” as Wallace puts it. “This richness can be an understanding of the wisdom the dreamer has gained, or a realization of their value to others.” In other words, not so much material as spiritual wealth.
What does it mean when you dream you’re falling in love?
If you dream of falling in love or a having a passionate tryst, it may be because you lack this kind of intimacy and passion in your waking life. According to Wallace, dreaming about falling in love, “can be triggered when we are about to fall in love with a potential lover in our waking life, or in an existing relationship, where inadequate love is being received and our uniqueness seems to be ignored.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re just falling?
We’ve all likely felt the sensation of falling in a dream. Though this might make you think that you need to get a tighter grip and hang on, according to Wallace, the opposite is true. It’s a sign “you are hanging on too tightly to a particular situation in waking life. You need to relax and let go of it.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re flying?
While falling is an indication that something is amiss, flying in a dream is usually a sign that you’ve freed yourself from something frustrating or difficult. As Wallace puts it, the feeling of flying “suggests that you have released yourself from circumstances that have been weighing you down in waking life… Although you may regard this feeling of liberation as just luck or coincidence, it is usually because you have managed to make a weighty decision or risen above the limitations of a heavy responsibility.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re flying, but there’s an obstacle?
Flying might not always be a pleasant experience, however. If you’re flying in a dream but feel scared or see an object or obstacle in front of you, it may be that you feel something is holding you back or preventing you from accomplishing something you are attempting. “You feel that something is taking off but it’s not quite there yet,” says Anderson. “It could be a relationship or a job—it’s the details in the dream that really explore your feelings on a deeper level.”
What does it mean when you dream that you miss your plane or train?
If you miss a plane or train in your dream, arriving just as it takes off and leaving you standing on the platform or tarmac, it may be that you feel you are being weighed down by too many other commitments. As Wallace puts it, “You may be taking on too much in your waking life in order to achieve the fulfillment you desire. You can reach your goals more effectively by being more aware of your deeper priorities, and leaving unnecessary baggage behind. Listen to your own internal rhythms instead of constantly trying to beat the clock.”
What does it mean when you dream that you call the wrong number?
Your subconscious might be feeling frustrated that you can’t connect with someone in your life the way you used to—and this may manifest itself in a dream in which you are dialing a wrong number. “This suggests that a logical way of communicating with someone, or a specific personal behavior used when being with a particular person, is not really working anymore,” says Wallace. “It is also experienced in dreams about computers or calculators where the dreamer keeps pressing the wrong buttons. This reflects that what they are doing in waking life just doesn’t really add up.”
What does it mean when you dream that you’re naked, in the middle of a crowd?
You’re standing in the middle of a crowd, at work, or in some other public place—completely naked. Though you’re relieved when you realize it was all a dream, you might want to think about your feelings of vulnerability. According to Wallace, “Being naked in public suggests that there is a situation in waking life that is making you feel vulnerable and exposed.” It might be time for you to take an improv class or seek another way to get comfortable opening up to others.
What does it mean when you dream you’re walking around on bare feet?
Just as being naked indicates vulnerability, having bare feet gets to a similar sense in your subconscious—but with a more direct connection to the steps you are taking in life (literally). It can “indicate issues around how you are maneuvering through your current life choices,” according to Lennox. “If you are exposed to the elements, it leaves them vulnerable to injury. This can have a great impact on your journey and how you get to where you intend to go.”
What does it mean when you dream you’ve gone blind?
Suffering blindness in a dream usually indicates that we sense we are overlooking something in our life or worry we aren’t able to see something. As Lennox puts it, “By dreaming of the inability to see, you may be expressing areas in your life that you may be blind to…You may be dreaming of a situation in your life, or your personality, where you have a blind spot. You may have to go beyond what the eyes can see in a situation to determine how to respond authentically.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re playing a board game?
While some might dream of fights or athletic competitions, if you are someone who has board games appear in your dreams, you are more likely someone who prefers “a civilized approach to expressing competitive impulses and conflict-solving skills,” according to Lennox. If you’re playing Monopoly or Scrabble in your mind, it may be a sign that you prefer some emotional distance to actual confrontation, and the more structured, rules-based logic to conflict that board games bring.
What does it mean when you dream there’s an explosion?
While we might usually think of bombs as a destructive force, often when explosions happen in your dreams, it shows that you are experiencing or ready for major change. Lennox advises looking at the specific context in which a bomb detonates, and how effectively it destroys its target.
“Whatever or whomever was hunted or destroyed will supply you with the meaning you should assign the symbol,” he says. “The area of life that is suggested by the target is the area of your life that needs a drastic change.”
What does it mean when you dream that you show up for an exam, but you’re not prepared?
Another classic dream scenario is the feeling of showing up for an exam and realizing you are totally unprepared for it. Maybe you feel like you studied for the wrong subject or you can’t even understand the words in front of you, but the likely source of the feeling is that “you are critically examining your own performance in waking life,” according to Wallace.
What does it mean when you dream you show up for another exam, and you’re still not prepared?
Having the unprepared-for-an-exam dream is also the sign of something positive: you are a high performer who is used to working hard and doing things right. That’s the conclusion of Anderson, who says that those who have the dream are usually the people who perform well and that, “It’s your fear of being unprepared that actually drives you to being totally ready to perform.”
What does it mean when you dream you need to use the bathroom, but can’t find a toilet?
Maybe you care too much about others or are ignoring your own desires or needs, but if you have a sense that you are not addressing your own needs, a typical dream you’re likely to have is one in which you’re trying—and failing—to find a toilet. “Toilets are what we use to cleanly respond to some of our most fundamental needs, so there is an issue in waking life where you are finding it a challenge to clearly express your own needs,” according to Wallace.
What does it mean when you dream you need to use the bathroom?
Dreams of needing to use the bathroom likewise can mean that “you literally want to let the crap out of your life. It’s about decluttering and letting go—you want to release something or someone,” according to Anderson.
What does it mean when you dream you actually need to pee?
Of course, it may be that you actually do need a toilet, and your dreams will alert you to this fact with dreams of water or in which you are seeking out a bathroom in vain. So it may just be that you need to wake up and hit the head before you wet the bed.
What does it mean when you dream you’re being accused of a crime?
Dreams can sometimes torment you with images of you accused of a crime or having committed murder or a less serious breach of the law. These kind of situations usually arise from a sense that you are hiding something yourself in your waking life—and it isn’t always something negative. “The crime we have committed usually represents a conscious choice that we have made in waking life to ignore some of our individual needs and talents in order to gain social acceptance,” according to Wallace.
What does it mean when you dream you’re entering a lot of new spaces?
If you have a large house in your dreams or spend your dreams going through doors and discovering new spaces, it “indicates that exploring the initial possibility will lead onto a number of other exciting opportunities and give you the chance to expand well beyond where you are just now,” according to Wallace. It’s telling you that, “You need to be open to opportunity and not close the door on any chances that you create. As you begin to explore one talent, you often start to become aware of other possibilities for using your unique abilities.”
What does it mean when you dream there’s something chasing you?
If you’re running away from something in your dream, “There is an issue in your waking life that you want to confront, but you don’t know how to,” according to Wallace. If you’re having a dream of this kind, your dreams may be trying to tell you that it’s time to face your fears and pursue something that you have been putting aside.
What does it mean when you dream about a bridge?
If you’re ready to move into a new chapter in your life or to make a change—but without losing touch with your past—the image of a bridge is likely to appear in your dreams. According to Lennox, the primary meaning of bridges in dreams “relates to the connections we make in life, hence the warning in the phrase don’t burn your bridges.” If the water below is especially rough, it might mean you’re uncomfortable with the change.
What does it mean when there’s a candle in your dream?
If you’re feeling a creative spark or an innovative idea just struck you, then the image of a candle might appear in your dreams. “When we light a candle, we are committing an act of creation,” says Lennox. He says that a candle can indicate the beginning of some important event or relationship in our life or a sense of creative richness. Of course, if the candle is blown out, it can mean the end of something.
What does it mean when you dream you’re climbing something?
If you’re climbing in your dream, straining as you make it up the side of a mountain inch by inch, it may be a signal that you are someone who likes a challenge and the opportunity to take a journey that, while difficult, promises a reward at the end.
What does it mean when you’re exploring a closet or looking in a cabinet?
Back to the dream house: If you are exploring a closet or looking at what’s inside an enclosed cabinet, it could indicate that you are hiding something or ashamed of it. “What you discover in a closet should be viewed through the focus of something you are hiding from or not wanting to face,” says Lennox. “A full or overstuffed closet may point to avoidance issues that need attention.”
What does it mean when you dream about a farm or cowboys?
Images of a farm or cowboys can indicate that you have a self-reliant nature. As Lennox explains, “Working on a farm points to a call to action to dig deeper and take responsibility for getting your needs met. Owning a farm connects to how responsible you are to your self-nurturing and perhaps the dependence of others upon you for such needs.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re getting a divorce?
If you’ve filled your schedule with too many things and have a sense of overwhelm about it all, you may find yourself dreaming of divorce. Don’t despair that a divorce dream points to a loveless marriage or irreconcilable differences. According to Wallace, it may simply be giving you the message that “you are trying to balance your commitments and honor the promises you have made to other people. It can be difficult to service all these obligations and it can become very easy for you to start to feel out of balance.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re getting married to someone you don’t know?
Whether you’ve taken a new job or agreed to attend an event where you are not totally sure what will be expected of you, a sense that you are committing to something which you are unsure about may be indicated in a dream with a feeling of being married to an unknown person. “Not knowing the identity of the bride or groom suggests you are unsure what you are really committing yourself to, and that you doubt that you will have much time for yourself if you take on these commitments,” says Wallace.
What does it mean when you dream you’ve become a professional athlete?
If you’re someone who responds to being part of a team or being part of something larger than yourself, you might have dreams where you’re a professional athlete, according to Wallace. A dream where you’re competing in the big leagues, “reflects their acceptance into a wider society where in order to have their skills and talents recognized, they will have to work as part of a team, and this will help them to ultimately achieve their goals.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re unable to speak?
If you find yourself tongue-tied in your dream, unable to speak or as if there is a gag in our mouth (or maybe a bunch of chewing gum), Wallace suggests that it’s related to “an unresolved tension in our waking lives where we really want to say what’s on our mind and to speak and be heard.” He suggests considering the situations in waking life where we feel “ignored or have no way to make our opinions heard” and see if there is a better way to communicate or a way to do so that would help us feel “heard.”
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If you’d rather not have the government, hackers, your internet service provider, or anyone else potentially intercepting and reading your private communications, you should make sure you’re using a secure messaging app. Specifically, one that uses encrypted messaging.
As you’ve probably noticed (unless you live under a rock, which is slowly sounding more and more like the way to go) internet privacy has become one of the hottest topics of the decade. In 2017, the United States Congress repealed regulations that would help protect your data from being sold by broadband and wireless companies. In 2016, the UK’s Parliament passed the Investigatory Power Act (also known as the Snooper’s Charter), which expands the surveillance power of the UK Intelligence Community and police. And in 2018, Australia forced famous messaging app WhatsApp to include spyware so they could see what you’re typing. Not to mention what’s going on in the news right now concerning privacy. If you aren’t already worried, now is a pretty good time to start wondering just how safe your online communications actually are, and what the most secure messaging app is.
What makes a messaging app secure?
An encrypted messaging app has something more important than cool widgets and a gigantic library of emojis: it has features that work quietly in the background to make sure the app is secure.
The main thing to check for when choosing a messaging app is whether or not it uses end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption means your private chat messages are scrambled, and only the sender and the receiver of the messages have the “keys” to read them. This ensures that no one besides you and the person you’re talking to can decipher the messages.
Ironically, encryption used to be thought of as something only used by the paranoid or those with a compelling need for secrecy, such as political dissidents. It was only after whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked classified documents revealing the U.S. NSA’s global surveillance program that the world began to fully understand the importance of encryption and online privacy. Since then, many companies (including Facebook, Apple, and Google) have ramped up encryption on their software.
Default encryption settings
Just because an app offers end-to-end encryption, doesn’t mean that it’s the default setting. Some messaging apps require you to go into the app’s settings and actually turn on the encryption feature, while others only encrypt messages in certain scenarios (for instance, blue iMessages versus green text messages). Because the importance of encryption is still relatively new, many people may just assume the app is safe without knowing if or when their messages are encrypted — so look for one that has encryption on as the default for you and whomever you’re messaging.
Open source code
While fears of reverse-engineering or code backdoors may make it seem counterintuitive for an app maker to reveal an app’s source code, doing so is now widely regarded as an indicator of the app’s integrity. Open source code opens the app up to outside accountability and auditing by experts, which can be a useful way to bring attention to any weaknesses or vulnerabilities in the code.
What are the most secure messaging apps for Android & iPhone?
Originally known as TextSecure Private Messenger, Signal has been touted as the gold standard of messaging security by cryptographer Bruce Schneier, Edward Snowden, US congress, and even the European Commission. Available as a free messaging app on iPhone and Android phones, as well as desktops, Signal sends messages across its own data infrastructure.
Signal security features
Messages sent via the Signal app can only be viewed by the sender and receiver. Not even the company behind the app, Open Whisper Systems, can decrypt the messages. In addition to instant messages, you can also make voice calls, group messages, and encrypted video calls.
Signal has open source code that can be viewed by anyone. This kind of transparency allows for routine auditing and helps ensure that the app’s security is always up to date.
For extra security, Signal allows you to make both sent and received messages “disappear” after a certain amount of time has elapsed.
Minimal data storageUnlike many other messaging apps, Signal only stores the metadata required for the app to work, such as your phone number, random keys, and profile information.
Password security The app also allows you to set a password to lock it. So even if your phone falls into the wrong hands, your messages will still be protected.
Signal security risks
The best thing about Signal is that there are virtually no security risks. As long as the app’s developers continue to be diligent about fixing vulnerabilities, Signal will remain at the top of the messaging app food chain.
2. Wickr Me
Available on both iPhone and Android, Wickr has distinguished itself from the pack by offering secure messaging options for both personal use (Wickr Me) and for businesses and enterprises (Wickr Pro). While Wickr Me is free, Wickr Pro is a paid service that comes with a 30-day free trial.
Wickr Me security features
In addition to encrypted messaging, in 2018 Wickr announced that its “Me” service will also offer encrypted calling and voice messaging (which are already offered in the Pro version).
Wickr recently announced that they will be offering a new feature that allows users to detect screenshots. This means that you will receive a notification if someone takes a screenshot of a message you send.
Screen overlay protection
On Android devices, Wickr has released a new feature that allows users to disable “Screen Overlays”. This prevents users from being able to interact with the app when an overlay is detected, and helps protect the app from TapJacking.
Third party keyboards
On iOS, Wickr lets you block Third Party Keyboards. This helps protect your information by preventing third party keyboards from recording usernames, passwords, and other information that is typed into the app.
This feature adds an extra layer of security by making sure your already deleted files can’t be recovered with special tools or technology. While Wickr does this for you periodically, you also have the option to manually erase information from your phone.
Formerly known as Cyber Dust, Mark Cuban’s brainchild messaging app Dust is available on both iOS and Android. The main purpose of the app is to send private messages (or photos and videos) called “Dusts” to your contacts that “turn to dust” and disappear within 100 seconds of being read. “Blasts” are another type of message that can be sent to a group of people, but are read privately. Finally, you can start group chats, simply known as “Groups.”
Dust security features
End-to-end encryption Dust uses “heavy encryption,” although the code is not actually available for viewing. You can send encrypted text, photo, or video messages, but the app does not allow for voice or video calls.
No permanent storage
Not only are your messages not permanently saved on your phone or the company’s servers (instead they’re sent to the app’s RAM memory until they are accessed by the receiver), you can also erase your messages off of other people’s devices.
If a screenshot is attempted on an Android phone, the name of the person who sent the message is removed, effectively eliminating context from the conversation. Apple prevents apps from blocking screenshots, so instead, iPhone users receive a notification if someone takes a screenshot of their sent message.
Messages are automatically erased either within 24 hours, or as soon as they’re read. You can choose.
Dust security risks
There are currently no significant security risks associated with Dust, aside from the potential risks and lack of transparency related to the app’s code not being open source.
With over 300 million daily users, WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps being used today. The app’s popularity is definitely one of its strong points, along with the fact that it’s available for free on both iPhone and Android and doesn’t show any ads. You can easily send text messages, photos, as well as short video and voice messages. But are WhatsApp chats private?
WhatsApp security features
In April 2016, WhatsApp implemented a super secure encryption protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems (the company behind secure messaging app Signal) across all mobile platforms. Thanks to this protocol, only the sender and receiver have the keys to decrypt messages sent via WhatsApp, meaning they can’t be accessed and read by anyone else. Voice and video calls are also encrypted.
WhatsApp also has a “Verify Security Code” screen in the contact info screen that allows you to confirm that your calls and messages are end-to-end encrypted. The code is presented as both a QR code and a 60-digit number.
An optional feature, two-step verification allows you to add more security to your account by setting a PIN number that is required to verify your phone number on any device.
Messages not stored
The only time your message is kept on a WhatsApp server is the period after you send it and before it is delivered to the receiver. If it can’t be delivered for some reason, then the message is deleted from the server after 30 days.
WhatsApp Security risks
WhatsApp messages can’t be intercepted during transmission, but what about message backups on iCloud or Google Drive? The good news for iPhone users is that WhatsApp added encryption protection to iCloud backups in late 2016. But Android phone messages backed up on Google Drive are not encrypted, leaving them potentially vulnerable to hackers, governments that could legally force Google to turn over your messages, or even Google itself. So how can you protect your privacy on WhatsApp as an Android user? Fortunately, you can disable WhatsApp message backups on Google Drive.
Facebook privacy issues
WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, transferring concerns about the social media conglomerate’s reputation for invasive data collection to the messaging app. While Facebook assures users that there is no possible way for them to view encrypted WhatsApp messages, WhatsApp did announce that they would be sharing user metadata with Facebook, for various purposes such as ad-targeting.
Claiming over 200 million users on both iPhone and Android, Telegram has been steadily growing in popularity since its debut in 2013 and is known for its unique group chat feature that can support up to 100,000 members. Earlier in 2018, however, a clash with the Russian government over the app makers’ refusal to hand over the encryption keys resulted in it being banned in Russia entirely. Telegram has also been viewed as controversial because of its status as the preferred messaging app of ISIS. This has further driven the conversation about what responsibility messaging apps have to work with law-enforcement versus keeping user data fully protected.
Telegram security features
Telegram offers a feature called “Secret Chat” that allows you to protect your messages with end-to-end encryption. However, the feature is not default, so you’ll need to know how to turn it on.
You can set a 4-digit code to prevent intruders from accessing your messages, which can be useful if your phone gets lost or stolen.
Found in Settings, two-step verification requires you to use both an SMS code and a password (be sure you know what not to do when creating a password) to log in to the app. You can also set up a recovery email address in case you forget your password).
Open source code
Anyone can check Telegram’s source code, protocol, and API to make sure it is up to par.
Telegram Cracking Contest
Telegram challenges “hackers” to attempt to break through their encryption and decipher messages, offering a $300,000 reward for anyone who is able to do so. This helps ensure that any potential vulnerabilities will be found and fixed.
Like many other messaging apps, Telegram also offers a Self-Destruct Timer (for Secret Chats only) that will delete private text messages and media within a preset time limit.
Because you can log into Telegram from numerous devices at the same time (web, PC, tablet, smartphone, etc.), the app offers the ability to log out of other sessions from the current device you’re using through the Settings menu. This way, if your device is lost or stolen, you can still make sure your messages are secure.
After your account has been inactive for a certain amount of time (six months being the default), your account will automatically self-destruct, completely wiping clean all of your messages and media.
Telegram security risks
End-to-end encryption isn’t default
You must manually enable Telegram’s “Secret Chat” feature, otherwise chats are only encrypted between your device and Telegram’s server.
Logging chat data
If you don’t enable the Secret Chat feature, then your chat data is saved on Telegram’s servers. The company claims this is in case you lose your device and want to recover your messages, but from a security standpoint, this is a big no-no.
Possibly flawed encryption technology
Telegram created its own MTProto protocol, instead of using one that is already proven secure, such as the Signal protocol. Many experts have questioned the reasoning behind this, and have expressed skepticism about the lack of transparency surrounding the protocol.
6. Apple iMessage
The instant messaging service developed by Apple Inc., iMessage is supported by the Messenger application on iOS version 5.0 and later. Allowing users to send text, documents, videos, photos, contact information, and group messages over the internet, iMessage is very popular among iPhone users (and can only be used between them). We’ve already gone over tips on how to keep your iPhone safe, but is iMessage actually secure?
iMessage security features
iMessage end-to-end encryption only protects messages between iPhone users (which appear in blue). If you send a message to an Android user for instance, the message is sent as a normal text message (in green) and is not encrypted. Unlike many of the other apps on this list, it seems like Apple won’t be coming out with iMessage for Android. Though iMessage doesn’t directly allow for video or voice calls, its sister app FaceTime does (with encrypted protection).
Many iMessage users are unaware that the app provides a feature that allows you to control how long each photo, video, or message will appear before it’s gone. You can also choose how many times the viewer can see the message. However, the feature is only available with iOS 10 and later.
iMessages deleted from servers
Your encrypted messages only remain on Apple’s servers for 7 days before they are deleted.
iMessage security risks
In 2016, researchers at Johns Hopkins University revealed a flaw with Apple’s encryptionimplementation that could leave iMessages vulnerable to decryption. Later, in 2019, researchers from Project Zero presented 6 high-level exploits that allowed them to use iMessages to take over a user’s device. All these issues were quickly patched, but it does imply the risk of other, unknown vulnerabilities lurking in the code.
If you back up your iMessages to iCloud, these messages are encrypted on iCloud using a key controlled by the company, not you. This means that, if your iCloud is hacked or subpoenaed by a court, they could be revealed. And while Apple has been firm about not creating “back doors” into their system or weakening encryption, they and other tech companies do have a history of cooperating with authorities when it comes to turning over information stored in the Cloud.
7. Facebook Messenger
Facebook’s messaging app is available for both iPhone and Android phones, and provides a convenient way to keep up with friends and family thanks to its sheer popularity.
Facebook Messenger security features
In 2016, Facebook added its Secret Conversations feature to secure messages with the Signal end-to-end encryption protocol (also used by WhatsApp). However, Signal and WhatsApp have end-to-end encryption by default, while Secret Conversations must be activated.
You can set Facebook Messenger messages to self-destruct after a certain period of time (between five seconds and 24 hours).
Facebook Messenger security risks
Encryption not by default
As mentioned above, end-to-end encryption for messages must be activated by the user. This means that messages sent without this feature are only encrypted when sent to Facebook’s server, and then encrypted again when sent to the recipient (whereas end-to-end is directly between sender and recipient). This means a copy of the message remains on Facebook’s servers.
Despite being available for free on both iOS and Android, Google Hangouts is riddled with privacy and security concerns. Though it does encrypt hangout conversations, it doesn’t use end-to-end encryption — instead, messages are encrypted “in transit”. This means that they are only encrypted between your device and Google’s servers. Once they are on a server, Google has complete access to them. If ordered to do so, Google can tap into private communication sessions and relay that information to government agencies. And with Google’s Transparency Reportrevealing that the company does indeed receive and often fulfill requests for customer information, this is a very real concern.
Additionally, images sent via Hangouts are shared through public URLs, meaning that virtually anyone (who knows a thing or two about URLs) can view your private images. This is definitely not the app you should be using to send…sensitive…pics.
How can I stay safe?
We believe everyone has a right to online privacy, and deserves to message their friends and family without worrying about who might be sneaking a peak. In an ideal world, everyone would be using super secure messaging apps like Signal or Wickr to communicate. But with the popularity of less secure or privacy-questionable apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, sometimes the middle ground is more convenient. If you do choose to use a less secure messaging app, pair it with VPN protection. A virtual private network encrypts everything you do online, including messaging as well as other tasks that may expose your sensitive personal info like online shopping and banking. We offer AVG Secure VPN for iOS and AVG Secure VPN for Androidto keep your information safe.
Identity theft is a serious crime. Identity theft happens when someone uses information about you without your permission. They could use your:
name and address
credit card or bank account numbers
Social Security number
phone or utility account numbers
medical insurance numbers
How will I know if my identity was stolen?
Here are ways you can tell that someone is using your information:
You see withdrawals from your bank account that you cannot explain.
You find credit card charges that you didn’t make.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says someone used your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
You do not get your bills or other mail.
You get bills for utilities or medical services you did not use.
Debt collectors call you about debts that are not yours.
You find strange accounts or charges on your credit report.
What is IdentityTheft.gov?
IdentityTheft.gov is a website that helps you recover from identity theft. You:
answer questions about what happened to you
put in your name, address, and other information
get your Identity Theft Report
get a recovery plan created just for you
You also can create an account. The account helps you through the recovery steps and tracks your progress.
What is an Identity Theft Report?
An Identity Theft Report helps you fix your bills and your credit report. Your Identity Theft Report tells your creditors that you should not have to pay for what the identity thief spent.
You get an Identity Theft Report when you report a problem to IdentityTheft.gov. This is your statement about what happened. It lists what accounts are not yours and what charges you did not make.
What is a credit report?
Your credit report is a summary of your credit history. It lists:
your name, address, and Social Security number
your credit cards
how much money you owe
if you pay your bills on time or late
Who creates my credit report?
A credit bureau creates your credit report. The credit bureau gathers information about you and your credit history.
There are three main credit bureaus:
What is a fraud alert?
A fraud alert tells businesses that they must contact you before they give someone credit in your name. You put a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert makes it hard for someone else to open new accounts in your name.
There are a few kinds of fraud alerts. They are all free:
Initial fraud alert – lasts for one year. Use this if you thinksomeone stole your identity.
Extended fraud alert – lasts for seven years. Use this if you knowsomeone stole your identity.
Active duty alert – lasts up to one year. Use this if you are in the military and deployed.
What do I do when someone steals my identity?
It is very important to act fast.
First, call the companies where you know fraud happened.
Explain that someone stole your identity.
Ask them to close or freeze your accounts.
Then change your password or personal identification number (PIN).
Report the crime and get a recovery plan that’s just for you.
You can create an account. The account helps you with the recovery steps and tracks your progress.
Why is it important to act so fast?
If you wait, the identity thief has more time to cheat you. That means there are more problems to fix. Acting fast means there should be fewer problems to fix.
Why should I use IdentityTheft.gov?
IdentityTheft.gov helps you fix problems related to identity theft, like these:
mistakes on your credit report
accounts that are not yours
mistakes on your bills
getting extended fraud alerts
IdentityTheft.gov also gives you a recovery plan just for you.
What comes first in my recovery plan?
The first step of your recovery plan is to call the credit bureaus. Ask the credit bureau for an initial fraud alert. It is free and lasts for 90 days. The fraud alert makes it harder for thieves to open accounts in your name.
The next step is to ask all three credit bureaus for a credit report. If someone stole your identity, your credit report is free. Look at your credit report for things you do not recognize.
How do I fix mistakes on my credit report?
Send a letter to the credit bureau to fix mistakes on your credit report. IdentityTheft.gov gives you letters that are filled out with your information. You can print the letter, sign it, and send it to the credit bureau.
How do I fix mistakes on my bills?
You might find mistakes when you read your bills. There might be charges you do not recognize. You can send a letter to the company that has the mistakes. Ask the company to fix those mistakes.
IdentityTheft.gov gives you letters filled out with your information. You can print the letter, sign it, and send it to the company. Use the address the company gives for disputes.
Then change your password and PIN with the company that has the mistakes on your bills.
How do I close an account that is not mine?
Your credit report might list accounts that you did not open. You can send a letter to the business that has the account. Ask them to close the account.
IdentityTheft.gov gives you letters that are filled out with your information. You can print the letter, sign it, and send it to the business. Send a copy of your Identity Theft Report with the letter.
A business might ask you to use a form to close an account. If they do, send that form.
What happens when my initial fraud alert expires?
You can put an extended fraud alert on your credit report. An extended fraud alert is good for seven years.
IdentityTheft.gov helps you place the alert. Contact each credit bureau to ask for an extended fraud alert. You might have to give them a copy of your Identity Theft Report.
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