LGBTQ Youth?

  • LGBTQ Youth?

    Tips and tools to help you more safely access LGBTQ resources, navigate social networks, and avoid snoopers.

    If you lack proper support and access to LGBTQ resources, this guide teaches you how to explore such resources online in a safer way to help avoid accidental outing to your peers, family, or online advertisers as a result of online tracking or nosy snoopers.

  • Choosing Your Tools

    With so many companies and websites offering tools geared towards helping individuals improve their own digital security, how do you choose the tools that are right for you?

    We don’t have a foolproof list of tools that can defend you (though you can see some common choices in our Tool Guides). But if you have a good idea of what you are trying to protect, and who you are trying to protect it from, this guide can help you choose the appropriate tools using some basic guidelines.

    Remember, security isn't about the tools you use or the software you download. It begins with understanding the unique threats you face and how you can counter those threats. Check out our Assessing your Risks guide for more information.

    Security is a Process, not a Purchase

    The first thing to remember before changing the software you use or buying new tools is that no tool or piece of software will give you absolute protection from surveillance in all circumstances. Therefore, it’s important to think about your digital security practices holistically. For example, if you use secure tools on your phone, but don’t put a password on your computer, the tools on your phone might not help you much. If someone wants to find out information about you, they will choose the easiest way to obtain that information, not the hardest.

    Secondly, it’s impossible to protect against every kind of trick or attacker, so you should concentrate on which people might want your data, what they might want from it, and how they might get it. If your biggest threat is physical surveillance from a private investigator with no access to internet surveillance tools, you don't need to buy some expensive encrypted phone system that claims to be "NSA-proof." Alternatively, if you face a government that regularly jails dissidents because they use encryption tools, it may make sense to use simpler tactics—like arranging a set of harmless-sounding, pre-arranged codes to convey messages—rather than risk leaving evidence that you use encryption software on your laptop. Coming up with a set of possible attacks you plan to protect against is called threat modeling.

    Given all that, here are some questions you can ask about a tool before downloading, purchasing, or using it.

    How Transparent is it?

    There's a strong belief among security researchers that openness and transparency leads to more secure tools.

    Much of the software the digital security community uses and recommends is open-source. This means the code that defines how it works is publicly available for others to examine, modify, and share. By being transparent about how their program works, the creators of these tools invite others to look for security flaws and help improve the program.

    Open-source software provides the opportunity for better security, but does not guarantee it. The open source advantage relies, in part, on a community of technologists actually checking the code, which, for small projects (and even for popular, complex ones), may be hard to achieve.

    When considering a tool, see if its source code is available and whether it has an independent security audit to confirm the quality of its security. At the very least, software or hardware should have a detailed technical explanation of how it functions for other experts to inspect.

    How Clear are its Creators About its Advantages and Disadvantages?

    No software or hardware is entirely secure. Seek out tools with creators or sellers who are honest about the limitations of their product.

    Blanket statements that say that the code is “military-grade” or “NSA-proof” are red flags. These statements indicate that the creators are overconfident or unwilling to consider the possible failings in their product.

    Because attackers are always trying to discover new ways to break the security of tools, software and hardware needs to be updated to fix vulnerabilities. It can be a serious problem if the creators are unwilling to do this, either because they fear bad publicity or because they have not built the infrastructure to do so. Look for creators who are willing to make these updates, and who are honest and clear about why they are doing so.

    A good indicator of how toolmakers will behave in the future is their past activity. If the tool's website lists previous issues and links to regular updates and information—like specifically how long it has been since the software was last updated—you can be more confident that they will continue to provide this service in the future.

    What Happens if the Creators are Compromised?

    When security toolmakers build software and hardware, they (just like you) must have a clear threat model. The best creators explicitly describe what kind of adversaries they can protect you from in their documentation.

    But there's one attacker that many manufacturers do not want to think about: themselves! What if they are compromised or decide to attack their own users? For instance, a court or government may compel a company to hand over personal data or create a “backdoor” that will remove all the protections their tool offers. So consider the jurisdiction(s) where the creators are based. If you’re worried about protecting yourself from the government of Iran, for example, a US-based company will be able to resist Iranian court orders, even if it must comply with US orders.

    Even if a creator is able to resist government pressure, an attacker may attempt to break into the toolmakers' own systems in order to attack its customers.

    The most resilient tools are those that consider this as a possible attack and are designed to defend against this. Look for language that asserts that a creator cannot access private data, rather than promises that a creator will not. Look for institutions with a reputation for fighting court orders for personal data.

    Has it Been Recalled or Criticized Online?

    Companies selling products and enthusiasts advertising their latest software can be misled, be misleading, or even outright lie. A product that was originally secure might have terrible flaws in the future. Make sure you stay well-informed on the latest news about the tools that you use.

    It's a lot of work for one person to keep up with the latest news about a tool. If you have colleagues who use a particular product or service, work with them to stay informed.

    Which Phone Should I Buy? Which Computer?

    Security trainers are often asked: “Should I buy Android or an iPhone?” or “Should I use a PC or a Mac?” or “What operating system should I use?” There are no simple answers to these questions. The relative safety of software and devices is constantly shifting as new flaws are discovered and old bugs are fixed. Companies may compete with each other to provide you with better security, or they may all be under pressure from governments to weaken that security.

    Some general advice is almost always true, however. When you buy a device or an operating system, keep it up-to-date with software updates. Updates will often fix security problems in older code that attacks can exploit. Note that some older phones and operating systems may no longer be supported, even for security updates. In particular, Microsoft has made it clear that versions of Windows Vista, XP, and below will not receive fixes for even severe security problems. This means that if you use these, you cannot expect them to be secure from attackers. The same is true for OS X before 10.11 or El Capitan.

    Now that you’ve considered the threats you face, and know what to look for in a digital security tool, you can more confidently choose tools that are most appropriate for your unique situation.

    Products Mentioned in Surveillance Self-Defense

    We try to ensure that the software and hardware mentioned in SSD complies with the criteria listed above. We have made a good faith effort to only list products that:

    • have a solid grounding in what we currently know about digital security,
    • are generally transparent about their operation (and their failings),
    • have defenses against the possibility that the creators themselves will be compromised, and
    • are currently maintained, with a large and technically-knowledgeable user base.

    We believe that they have, at the time of writing, a wide audience who is examining them for flaws, and would raise concerns to the public quickly. Please understand that we do not have the resources to examine or make independent assurances about their security. We do not endorse these products and cannot guarantee complete security.

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  • Protecting Yourself on Social Networks

    Social networks are among the most popular websites on the Internet. Facebook has over a billion users, and Instagram and Twitter have hundreds of millions of users each. Social networks were generally built on the idea of sharing posts, photographs, and personal information. Now they have also become forums for organizing and speech. Any of these activities can rely on privacy and pseudonymity.

    Thus, the following questions are important to consider when using social networks: How can I interact with these sites while protecting myself? My basic privacy? My identity? My contacts and associations? What information do I want keep private and who do I want to keep it private from?

    Depending on your circumstances, you may need to protect yourself against the social network itself, against other users of the site, or both.

    Tips to Keep in Mind When Creating an Account

    • Do you want to use your real name? Some social media sites have so-called “real name policies,” but these have become more lax over time. If you do not want to use your real name when registering for a social media site, do not.
    • When you register, don't provide more information than is necessary. If you are concerned with hiding your identity, use a separate email address and avoid giving your phone number. Both of these pieces of information can identify you individually and can link different accounts together.
    • Be careful when choosing a profile photo or image. In addition to metadata that might include the time and place the photo was taken, the image itself can provide some information. Before you choose a picture, ask: Was it taken outside your home or workplace? Are any addresses or street signs visible?
    • Be aware that your IP address may be logged at registration.
    • Choose a strong password and, if possible, enable two-factor authentication.
    • Beware of password recovery questions such as “What city were you born in?” or “What is the name of your pet?”  because their answers can be mined from your social media details. You may want to choose password recovery answers that are false. One good way to remember the answers to password recovery questions, should you choose to use false answers for added security, is to note your chosen answers in a password manager.

    Check the Social Media Site's Privacy Policy

    Information stored by third parties is subject to their own policies and may be used for commercial purposes or shared with other companies, like marketing firms. While reading privacy policies is a near-impossible task, you may want to read the sections that describe how your data is used, when it is shared with other parties, and how the service responds to law enforcement requests.

    Social networking sites are usually for-profit businesses and often collect sensitive information beyond what you explicitly provide—where you are, what interests and advertisements you react to, what other sites you've visited (e.g. through “Like” buttons). Consider blocking third-party cookies and using tracker-blocking browser extensions to make sure extraneous information isn't being passively transmitted to third parties.

    Change Your Privacy Settings

    Specifically, change the default settings. For example, do you want to share your posts with the public, or only with a specific group of people? Should people be able to find you using your email address or phone number? Do you want your location shared automatically?

    Even though every social media platform has its own unique settings, you can find some patterns.

    • Privacy settings tend to answer the question: “Who can see what?” Here you’ll probably find settings concerning audience defaults (“public,” “friends of friends,” “friends only,” etc.), location, photos, contact information, tagging, and if/how people can find your profile in searches.
    • Security (sometimes called “safety”) settings will probably have more to do with blocking/muting other accounts, and if/how you want to be notified if there is an unauthorized attempt to authorize your account. Sometimes, you’ll find login settings—like two-factor authentication and a backup email/phone number—in this section. Other times, these login settings will be in an account settings or login settings section, along with options to change your password.

    Take advantage of security and privacy “check-ups.” Facebook, Google, and other major websites offer “security check-up” features. These tutorial-style guides walk you through common privacy and security settings in plain language and are an excellent feature for users.

    Finally, remember that privacy settings are subject to change. Sometimes, these privacy settings get stronger and more granular; sometimes not. Pay attention to these changes closely to see if any information that was once private will be shared, or if any additional settings will allow you to take more control of your privacy.

    Keep Separate Profiles Separate

    For a lot of us, it’s critical to keep different account’s identities separate. This can apply to dating websites, professional profiles, anonymous accounts, and accounts in various communities.

    Phone numbers and photos are two types of information to keep an eye on. Photos, in particular, can sneakily link accounts you intend to keep separate. This is a surprisingly common issue with dating sites and professional profiles. If you want to maintain your anonymity or keep a certain account’s identity separate from others, use a photo or image that you don’t use anywhere else online. To check, you can use Google’s reverse image search function. Other potentially linking variables to watch out for include your name (even nicknames) and your email. If you discover that one of these pieces of information is in a place you didn’t expect, don’t get scared or panic. Instead, think in baby steps: instead of trying to wipe all information about you off the entire Internet, just focus on specific pieces of information, where they are, and what you can do about them.

    Familiarize Yourself With Facebook Groups Settings

    Facebook groups are increasingly places for social action, advocacy, and other potentially sensitive activities, but group settings can be confusing. Learn more about group privacy settings and work with group members to keep your Facebook groups private and secure.

    Privacy Is A Team Sport

    Don’t just change your own social media settings and behavior. Take the additional step of talking with your friends about the potentially sensitive data you reveal about each other online. Even if you don’t have a social media account, or even if you untag yourself from posts, friends can still unintentionally identify you, report your location, and make their connections to you public. Protecting privacy means not only taking care of ourselves, but also taking care of each other.

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  • Your Security Plan

    Trying to protect all your data from everyone all the time is impractical and exhausting. But, have no fear! Security is a process, and through thoughtful planning, you can put together a plan that’s right for you. Security isn’t just about the tools you use or the software you download. It begins with understanding the unique threats you face and how you can counter those threats.

    In computer security, a threat is a potential event that could undermine your efforts to defend your data. You can counter the threats you face by determining what you need to protect and from whom you need to protect it. This is the process of security planning, often referred to as “threat modeling.”

    This guide will teach you how to make a security plan for your digital information and how to determine what solutions are best for you.

    What does a security plan look like? Let’s say you want to keep your house and possessions safe. Here are a few questions you might ask:

    What do I have inside my home that is worth protecting?

    • Assets could include: jewelry, electronics, financial documents, passports, or photos

    Who do I want to protect it from?

    • Adversaries could include: burglars, roommates, or guests

    How likely is it that I will need to protect it?

    • Does my neighborhood have a history of burglaries? How trustworthy are my roommates/guests? What are the capabilities of my adversaries? What are the risks I should consider?

    How bad are the consequences if I fail?

    • Do I have anything in my house that I cannot replace? Do I have the time or money to replace these things? Do I have insurance that covers goods stolen from my home?

    How much trouble am I willing to go through to prevent these consequences?

    • Am I willing to buy a safe for sensitive documents? Can I afford to buy a high-quality lock? Do I have time to open a security box at my local bank and keep my valuables there?

    Once you have asked yourself these questions, you are in a position to assess what measures to take. If your possessions are valuable, but the probability of a break-in is low, then you may not want to invest too much money in a lock. But, if the probability of a break-in is high, you’ll want to get the best lock on the market, and consider adding a security system.

    Making a security plan will help you to understand the threats that are unique to you and to evaluate your assets, your adversaries, and your adversaries’ capabilities, along with the likelihood of risks you face.

    How do I make my own security plan? Where do I start?

    Security planning helps you to identify what could happen to the things you value and determine from whom you need to protect them. When building a security plan answer these five questions:

    1. What do I want to protect?
    2. Who do I want to protect it from?
    3. How bad are the consequences if I fail?
    4. How likely is it that I will need to protect it?
    5. How much trouble am I willing to go through to try to prevent potential consequences?

    Let’s take a closer look at each of these questions.

    What do I want to protect?

    An “asset” is something you value and want to protect. In the context of digital security, an asset is usually some kind of information. For example, your emails, contact lists, instant messages, location, and files are all possible assets. Your devices may also be assets.

    Make a list of your assets: data that you keep, where it’s kept, who has access to it, and what stops others from accessing it.

    Who do I want to protect it from?

    To answer this question, it’s important to identify who might want to target you or your information. A person or entity that poses a threat to your assets is an “adversary.” Examples of potential adversaries are your boss, your former partner, your business competition, your government, or a hacker on a public network.

    Make a list of your adversaries, or those who might want to get ahold of your assets. Your list may include individuals, a government agency, or corporations.

    Depending on who your adversaries are, under some circumstances this list might be something you want to destroy after you’re done security planning.

    How bad are the consequences if I fail?

    There are many ways that an adversary could gain access to your data. For example, an adversary can read your private communications as they pass through the network, or they can delete or corrupt your data.

    The motives of adversaries differ widely, as do their tactics. A government trying to prevent the spread of a video showing police violence may be content to simply delete or reduce the availability of that video. In contrast, a political opponent may wish to gain access to secret content and publish that content without you knowing.

    Security planning involves understanding how bad the consequences could be if an adversary successfully gains access to one of your assets. To determine this, you should consider the capability of your adversary. For example, your mobile phone provider has access to all your phone records. A hacker on an open Wi-Fi network can access your unencrypted communications. Your government might have stronger capabilities.

    Write down what your adversary might want to do with your private data.

    How likely is it that I will need to protect it?

    Risk is the likelihood that a particular threat against a particular asset will actually occur. It goes hand-in-hand with capability. While your mobile phone provider has the capability to access all of your data, the risk of them posting your private data online to harm your reputation is low.

    It is important to distinguish between what might happen and the probability it may happen. For instance, there is a threat that your building might collapse, but the risk of this happening is far greater in San Francisco (where earthquakes are common) than in Stockholm (where they are not).

    Assessing risks is both a personal and a subjective process. Many people find certain threats unacceptable no matter the likelihood they will occur because the mere presence of the threat at any likelihood is not worth the cost. In other cases, people disregard high risks because they don’t view the threat as a problem.

    Write down which threats you are going to take seriously, and which may be too rare or too harmless (or too difficult to combat) to worry about.

    How much trouble am I willing to go through to try to prevent potential consequences?

    There is no perfect option for security. Not everyone has the same priorities, concerns, or access to resources. Your risk assessment will allow you to plan the right strategy for you, balancing convenience, cost, and privacy.

    For example, an attorney representing a client in a national security case may be willing to go to greater lengths to protect communications about that case, such as using encrypted email, than a family member who regularly emails funny cat videos.

    Write down what options you have available to you to help mitigate your unique threats. Note if you have any financial constraints, technical constraints, or social constraints.

    Security planning as a regular practice

    Keep in mind your security plan can change as your situation changes. Thus, revisiting your security plan frequently is good practice.

    Create your own security plan based on your own unique situation. Then mark your calendar for a date in the future. This will prompt you to review your plan and check back in to determine whether it’s still relevant to your situation.

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  • Communicating with Others

    Telecommunication networks and the Internet have made communicating with people easier than ever, but have also made surveillance more prevalent. Without taking extra steps to protect your privacy, every phone call, text message, email, instant message, video and audio chat, and social media message could be vulnerable to eavesdroppers.

    Often the most privacy-protective way to communicate with others is in person, without computers or phones being involved at all. Because this isn’t always possible, the next best thing is to use end-to-end encryption.

    How Does End-to-End Encryption Work?

    End-to-end encryption ensures that information is turned into a secret message by its original sender (the first “end”), and decoded only by its final recipient (the second “end”). This means that no one can “listen in” and eavesdrop on your activity, including wifi cafe snoops, your Internet service provider, and even the website or app you are using itself. Somewhat counter-intuitively, just because you access messages in an app on your phone or information from a website on your computer does not mean that the app company or website platform itself can see them. This is a core characteristic of good encryption: even the people who design and deploy it cannot themselves break it.

    All the tools that have guides on the SSD site use end-to-end encryption. You can use end-to-end encryption for any kind of communication — including voice and video calls, messaging and chat, and email.

    (Not to be confused with end-to-end encryption is transport-layer encryption. While end-to-end encryption protects messages, for example, all the way from you to your recipient, transport-layer encryption only protects them as they travel from your device to the app’s servers and from the app’s servers to your recipient’s device. In the middle, your messaging service provider—or the website you are browsing, or the app you are using—can see unencrypted copies of your messages.)

    Under the hood, end-to-end encryption works like this: When two people want to communicate via end-to-end encryption (for example, Akiko and Boris) they must each generate pieces of data, called keys. These keys can be used to turn data that anyone can read into data that can be only read by someone who has a matching key. Before Akiko sends a message to Boris, she encrypts it to Boris's key so that only Boris can decrypt it. Then she sends this encrypted message across the Internet. If anyone is eavesdropping on Akiko and Boris—even if they have access to the service that Akiko is using to send this message (such as her email account)—they will only see the encrypted data and will be unable to read the message. When Boris receives it, he must use his key to decrypt it into a readable message.

    Some services, like Google Hangouts, advertise “encryption,” but use keys that are created and controlled by Google, not the sender and final receiver of the message. This is not end-to-end encryption. To be truly secure, only the “ends” of the conversation should have the keys that let them encrypt and decrypt. If the service you use controls the keys, that is transport layer-encryption instead.

    End-to-end encryption means that users must keep their keys secret. It can also mean doing work to make sure the keys used to encrypt and decrypt belong to the right people. Using end-to-end encryption can involve some effort—from simply choosing to download an app that offers it to proactively verifying keys—but it's the best way for users to verify the security of their communications without having to trust the platform that they're both using.

    Learn more about encryption in What Should I know About Encryption?, Key Concepts in Encryption, and Different Types of Encryption. We also explain one particular kind of end-to-end encryption—called “public key encryption”—in more detail in A Deep Dive on End-to-End Encryption.

    Phone Calls and Text Messages versus Encrypted Internet Messages

    When you make a call from a landline or a mobile phone, your call is not end-to-end encrypted. When you send a text message (also known as SMS) on a phone, the text is not encrypted at all. Both allow governments or anyone else with power over the phone company to read your messages or record your calls. If your risk assessment includes government interception, you may prefer to use encrypted alternatives that operate over the Internet. As a bonus, many of these encrypted alternatives also offer video.

    Some examples of services or software that offer end-to-end encrypted texting and voice and video calls include:

    Some examples of services that do not offer end-to-end encryption by default include:

    • Google Hangouts
    • Kakao Talk
    • Line
    • Snapchat
    • WeChat
    • QQ
    • Yahoo Messenger

    And some services, like Facebook Messenger and Telegram, only offer end-to-end encryption if you deliberately turn it on. Others, like iMessage, only offer end-to-end encryption when both users are using a particular device (in the case of iMessage, both users need to be using an iPhone).

    How Much Can You Trust Your Messaging Service?

    End-to-end encryption can defend you against surveillance by governments, hackers, and the messaging service itself. But all of those groups might be able to make secret changes in the software you use so that even if it claims to use end-to-end encryption, it is really sending your data unencrypted or with weakened encryption.

    Many groups, including EFF, spend time watching well-known providers (like WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, or Signal) to make sure they really are providing the end-to-end encryption they promise. But if you are concerned about these risks, you can use tools that use publicly known and reviewed encryption techniques and are designed to be independent of the transport systems they use. OTR and PGP are two examples. These systems rely on user expertise to operate, are often less user-friendly, and are older protocols that don’t use all of the modern best encryption techniques.

    Off-the-Record (OTR) is an end-to-end encryption protocol for real-time text conversations that can be used on top of a variety of instant messaging services. Some tools that incorporate OTR include:

    PGP (or Pretty Good Privacy) is the standard for end-to-end encryption of email. For detailed instructions on how to install and use PGP encryption for your email, see:

    PGP for email is best-suited for technically experienced users communicating with other technically experienced users who are well aware of PGP’s complexities and limitations.

    What End-To-End Encryption Does Not Do

    End-to-end encryption only protects the content of your communication, not the fact that you are communicating in the first place. It does not protect your metadata, which includes, for example, the subject line of an email, who you are communicating with, and when. If you are making a call from a cell phone, information about your location is also metadata.

    Metadata can provide extremely revealing information about you even when the content of your communication remains secret.

    Metadata about your phone calls can give away some very intimate and sensitive information. For example:

    • They know you rang a phone sex service at 2:24 am and spoke for 18 minutes, but they don't know what you talked about.
    • They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge, but the topic of the call remains a secret.
    • They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour, but they don't know what was discussed.
    • They know you received a call from the local NRA office while it was having a campaign against gun legislation, and then called your senators and congressional representatives immediately after, but the content of those calls remains safe from government intrusion.
    • They know you called a gynecologist, spoke for a half hour, and then called the local Planned Parenthood's number later that day, but nobody knows what you spoke about.

    Other Important Features

    End-to-end encryption is only one of many features that may be important to you in secure communication. As described above, end-to-end encryption is great for preventing companies and governments from accessing your messages. But for many people, companies and governments are not the biggest threat, and therefore end-to-end encryption might not be the biggest priority.

    For example, if someone is worried about a spouse, parent, or employer with physical access to their device, the ability to send ephemeral, “disappearing” messages might be their deciding factor in choosing a messenger. Someone else might be worried about giving their phone number out, and so the ability to use a non-phone-number “alias” might be important.

    More generally, security and privacy features are not the only variables that matter in choosing a secure communications method. An app with great security features is worthless if none of your friends and contacts use it, and the most popular and widely used apps can vary significantly by country and community. Poor quality of service or having to pay for an app can also make a messenger unsuitable for some people.

    The more clearly you understand what you want and need out of a secure communication method, the easier it will be to navigate the wealth of extensive, conflicting, and sometimes outdated information available.

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  • Creating Strong Passwords

    Creating Strong Passwords Using Password Managers

    Reusing passwords is an exceptionally bad security practice. If a bad actor gets ahold of a password that you've reused across multiple services, they can gain access to many of your accounts. This is why having multiple, strong, unique passwords is so important.

    Fortunately, a password manager can help. A password manager is a tool that creates and stores passwords for you, so you can use many different passwords on different sites and services without having to memorize them. Password managers:

    • generate strong passwords that a human being would be unlikely to guess.
    • store several passwords (and responses to security questions) safely.

    • protect all of your passwords with a single master password (or passphrase).

    KeePassXC is an example of a password manager that is open-source and free. You can keep this tool on your desktop or integrate it into your web browser. KeePassXC does not automatically save changes you make when using it, so if it crashes after you've added some passwords, you can lose them forever. You can change this in the settings.

    Wondering whether a password manager is the right tool for you? If a powerful adversary like a government is targeting you, it might not be.


    • using a password manager creates a single point of failure.

    • password managers are an obvious target for adversaries.

    • research suggests that many password managers have vulnerabilities.

    If you’re worried about expensive digital attacks, consider something more low-tech. You can create strong passwords manually (see “Creating strong passwords using dice” below), write them down, and keep them somewhere safe on your person.

    Wait, aren’t we supposed to keep passwords in our heads and never write them down? Actually, writing them down, and keeping them somewhere like your wallet, is useful so you’ll at least know if your written passwords go missing or get stolen.

    Creating Strong Passwords Using Dice

    There are a few passwords that you should memorize and that need to be particularly strong. These include:

    One of many difficulties when people choose passwords themselves is that people aren't very good at making random, unpredictable choices. An effective way of creating a strong and memorable password is to use dice and a word list to randomly choose words. Together, these words form your “passphrase.” A "passphrase" is a type of password that is longer for added security. For disk encryption and your password manager, we recommend selecting a minimum of six words.

    Why use a minimum of six words? Why use dice to pick words in a phrase randomly? The longer and more random the password, the harder it is for both computers and humans to guess. To find out why you need such a long, hard-to-guess password, here’s a video explainer.

    Try making a passphrase using one of EFF's word lists.

    If your computer or device gets compromised and spyware is installed, the spyware can watch you type your master password and could steal the contents of the password manager. So it's still very important to keep your computer and other devices clean of malware when using a password manager.

    A Word About “Security Questions”

    Beware of the “security questions” that websites use to confirm your identity. Honest answers to these questions are often publicly discoverable facts that a determined adversary can easily find and use to bypass your password entirely.

    Instead, give fictional answers that no one knows but you. For example, if the security question asks:

    “What was the name of your first pet?”

    Your answer could be a random password generated from your password manager. You can store these fictional answers in your password manager.

    Think of sites where you’ve used security questions and consider changing your responses. Do not use the same passwords or security question answers for multiple accounts on different websites or services.

    Syncing Your Passwords Across Multiple Devices

    Many password managers allow you to access your passwords across devices through a password-synchronizing feature. This means when you sync your password file on one device, it will update it on all of your devices.

    Password managers can store your passwords “in the cloud,” meaning encrypted on a remote server. When you need your passwords, these managers will retrieve and decrypt the passwords for you automatically. Password managers that use their own servers to store or help synchronize your passwords are more convenient, but are slightly more vulnerable to attacks. If your passwords are stored both on your computer and in the cloud, an attacker does not need to take over your computer to find out your passwords. (They will need to break your password manager’s passphrase though.)

    If this is concerning, don't sync your passwords to the cloud and instead opt to store them on just your devices.

    Keep a backup of your password database just in case. Having a backup is useful if you lose your password database in a crash, or if your device is taken away from you. Password managers usually have a way to make a backup file, or you can use your regular backup program.

    Multi-Factor Authentication and One-Time Passwords

    Strong, unique passwords make it much harder for bad actors to access your accounts. To further protect your accounts, enable two-factor authentication.

    Some services offer two-factor authentication (also called 2FA, multi-factor authentication, or two-step verification), which requires users to possess two components (a password and a second factor) to gain access to their account. The second factor could be a one-off secret code or a number generated by a program running on a mobile device.

    Two-factor authentication using a mobile phone can be done in one of two ways:

    • your phone can run an authenticator application that generates security codes (such as Google Authenticator or Authy) or you can use a stand-alone hardware device (such as a YubiKey); or
    • the service can send you an SMS text message with an extra security code that you need to type in whenever you log in.

    If you have a choice, pick the authenticator application or stand-alone hardware device instead of receiving codes by text message. It’s easier for an attacker to redirect these codes to their own phone than it is to bypass the authenticator.

    Some services, such as Google, also allow you to generate a list of one-time passwords, also called single-use passwords. These are meant to be printed or written down on paper and carried with you. Each of these passwords works only once, so if one is stolen by spyware when you enter it, the thief won't be able to use it for anything in the future.

    Sometimes, You Will Need to Disclose Your Password

    Laws about revealing passwords differ from place to place. In some jurisdictions you may be able to legally challenge a demand for your password while in others, local laws allow the government to demand disclosure — and even imprison you on the suspicion that you may know a password or key. Threats of physical harm can be used to force someone to give up their password. Or you may find yourself in a situation, such as travelling across a border, where the authorities can delay you or seize your devices if you refuse to give up a password or unlock your device.

    We have a separate guide to crossing the U.S. border that gives advice on how to deal with requests for access to devices while travelling to or from the United States. In other situations, you should think about how someone might force you or others to give up your passwords, and what the consequences would be.

    Last reviewed: 
  • Understanding and Circumventing Network Censorship

    This is an overview of network censorship, but it is not comprehensive.

    Governments, companies, schools, and Internet providers sometimes use software to prevent their users from accessing certain websites and services that are otherwise available on the open web. This is called Internet filtering or blocking, and it is a form of censorship. Filtering comes in different forms. Even with encryption, censors can block entire websites, hosting providers, or Internet technologies. Sometimes, content is blocked based on the keywords it contains. When sites aren’t encrypted, censors can also block individual web pages.

    There are different ways of beating Internet censorship. Some protect you from surveillance, but many do not. When someone who controls your net connection filters or blocks a site, you can almost always use a circumvention tool to get to the information you need.

    Note: Circumvention tools that promise privacy or security are not always private or secure. And tools that use terms like “anonymizer” do not always keep your identity completely secret.

    The circumvention tool that is best for you depends on your security plan. If you’re not sure how to create a security plan, start here. While creating a security plan, be aware that someone who controls your Internet connection may notice that you are using a particular circumvention tool or technique, and take action against you or others.

    In this article, we’ll talk about understanding Internet censorship, who can perform it, and how it happens.

    Understanding Internet censorship and surveillance

    The Internet has a lot of processes that all have to work together properly in order to get your communications from one place to another. If someone is trying to block parts of the Intern­et, or particular activities, they may target many different parts of the system. The methods they use may depend on what technology and devices they have control over, their knowledge, their resources, and whether they are in a position of power to tell others what to do.

    Surveillance and Censorship: Two Sides of the Same Coin

    Internet surveillance and censorship go hand-in-hand. Internet censorship is a two-step process:

    1. Spot “unacceptable” activity
    2. Block “unacceptable” activity

    Spotting “unacceptable” activity is the same as Internet surveillance. If network administrators can see where you’re going on the Internet, they can decide whether to block it. By advocating for Internet and data privacy tools and technologies, we can also make Internet filtering and blocking more difficult.

    Many circumvention techniques likewise have the additional benefit of protecting your information from network eavesdroppers when you go online.

    The Cost of Surveillance

    Blocking Internet traffic comes at a cost, and over-blocking can come at an even greater cost. A popular example is that the Chinese government does not censor GitHub’s website, even though many anti-government newsletters are hosted on the website. Software developers need access to GitHub to perform work that is beneficial to the Chinese economy. Right now, these censors have decided that it will cost them more to block Github than they would gain by blocking it.

    Not all censors would make the same decision. For example, temporary Internet blackouts are becoming increasingly common, even though these measures can seriously harm local economies.

    Where and how censorship and surveillance happen

    Where is the blocking happening?

    Your computer tries to connect to, which is at a listed IP address (the numbered sequence beside the server associated with EFF’s website). The request for that website is made and passed along to various devices, such as your home network router and your Internet Service Provider (ISP), before reaching the intended IP address of The website successfully loads for your computer.

    Your computer tries to connect to, which is at a listed IP address (the numbered sequence beside the server associated with EFF’s website). The request for that website is made and passed along to various devices, such as your home network router and your Internet Service Provider (ISP), before reaching the intended IP address of The website successfully loads for your computer.

    An eye, watching a computer trying to connect to

    (1) Blocking or filtering on your devices. This is especially common in schools and workplaces. Someone who sets up or manages your computers and phones can put software on them that limits how they can be used. The software changes how the device works and can make it unable to access certain sites, or to communicate online in certain ways. Spyware can work in a very similar way.

    An eye, watching traffic going in and out of a home network router.

    (2) Local network filtering. This is especially common in schools and workplaces. Someone who manages your local network (like a WiFi network) enforces some limits on your Internet activity, like monitoring or controlling where you go online or when searching for certain keywords.

    An eye, watching traffic coming in and out of an ISP.

    (3) Blocking or filtering by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Your ISP can generally perform the same type of filtering as the administrator of your local network. ISPs in many countries are compelled by their government to perform regular Internet filtering and censorship. Commercial ISPs can perform filtering as a service for households or employers. Particular residential Internet service providers may market filtered connections directly to customers as an option, and automatically apply specific censorship methods (like those described below) to all connections on their ISPs. They may do this even if it isn’t required by a government, because some of their customers want it.

    How is the blocking happening?

    IP address blocking. “IP addresses” are the locations of computers on the Internet. Every piece of information that is sent over the Internet has a “To” address and a “From” address. Internet Service Providers or network administrators can create lists of locations that correspond with services they want to block. They can then block any pieces of information on the network that are being delivered to or from those locations.

    This can lead to overblocking, since many services can be hosted at the same location, or IP address. Similarly, many people wind up sharing any given IP address for their Internet access.

    In this diagram, the Internet Service Provider cross-checks the requested IP address against a list of blocked IP addresses. It determines that the IP address for matches that of a blocked IP address, and blocks the request to the website.

    In this diagram, the Internet Service Provider cross-checks the requested IP address against a list of blocked IP addresses. It determines that the IP address for matches that of a blocked IP address, and blocks the request to the website.


    DNS blocking.  Your device asks computers called “DNS resolvers” where sites are located. When you connect to the Internet, the default DNS resolver your device uses typically belongs to your Internet Service Provider. An ISP can program its DNS resolver to give an incorrect answer, or no answer, whenever a user tries to look up the location of a blocked site or service. If you change your DNS resolver, but your DNS connection isn’t encrypted, your ISP can still selectively block or change answers for blocked services.

    In this diagram, the request for’s IP address is modified at the Internet Service Provider level. The ISP interferes with the DNS resolver, and the IP address is redirected to give an incorrect answer or no answer.

    In this diagram, the request for’s IP address is modified at the Internet Service Provider level. The ISP interferes with the DNS resolver, and the IP address is redirected to give an incorrect answer or no answer.


    Keyword filtering. If traffic is unencrypted, Internet Service Providers can block web pages based on their contents. With a general increase in encrypted sites, this type of filtering is becoming less popular.

    One caveat is that administrators can decrypt encrypted activity if users install a trusted “CA certificate” provided by the administrators of their device. Since the user of a device must install the certificate, this is a more common practice for local networks at workplaces and schools, but less common at the ISP-level.

    On an unencrypted website connection, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) is able to check the content of a site against its blocked content types. In this example, mentioning free speech leads to an automatic block of a website.

    On an unencrypted website connection, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) is able to check the content of a site against its blocked content types. In this example, mentioning free speech leads to an automatic block of a website.


    HTTPS site filtering. When accessing sites over HTTPS, all of the content is encrypted except the name of the site. Since they can still see the site name, Internet Service Providers or local network administrators can decide which sites to block access to.

    In this diagram, a computer attempts to access The network administrator (represented by a router) is able to see domain ( but not the full website address after the slash. The network administrator can decide which domains to block access to.

    In this diagram, a computer attempts to access The network administrator (represented by a router) is able to see domain ( but not the full website address after the slash. The network administrator can decide which domains to block access to.


    Protocol and port blocking. A firewall or router might try to identify what kind of Internet technology someone is using to communicate, and block certain ones by recognizing technical details of how they communicate (protocols and port numbers are examples of information that can be used to identify what technology is being used). If the firewall can correctly recognize what kind of communication is happening or what technology is being used, it can be configured not to pass that communication along. For example, some networks might block the technologies used by certain VoIP (Internet phone call) or VPN applications.

    In this diagram, the router recognizes a computer attempting to connect to an HTTPS site, which uses Port 443. Port 443 is on this router’s list of blocked protocols.

    In this diagram, the router recognizes a computer attempting to connect to an HTTPS site, which uses Port 443. Port 443 is on this router’s list of blocked protocols.

    Other types of blocking

    Usually, blocking and filtering is used to prevent people from accessing specific sites or services. However, different types of blocking are becoming more common as well.

    Network shutdown. A network shutdown could also involve physically unplugging network infrastructure, like routers, network cables, or cellular towers, so that connections are physically prevented or are so bad that they are unusable.

    This can be a special case of IP address blocking, in which all or most IP addresses are blocked. Because it’s often possible to tell what country an IP address is used in, some countries have also experimented with temporarily blocking all or most foreign IP addresses, allowing some connections within the country but blocking most connections going outside the country.

    A computer attempts to connect to’s US-based IP address. At the Internet Service Provider’s level, the request is checked: the IP address for is checked against a list of blocked international IP addresses, and is blocked.

    A computer attempts to connect to’s US-based IP address. At the Internet Service Provider’s level, the request is checked: the IP address for is checked against a list of blocked international IP addresses, and is blocked.

    Throttling. Internet Service Providers can selectively throttle, or slow down, different types of traffic. Many government censors have started to slow down connections to certain sites rather than block them altogether. This type of blocking is harder to identify, and lets the ISP deny that it is restricting access. People might think their own Internet connection is just slow, or that the service they’re connecting to is not working.

    A computer tries to connect to Their Internet Service Provider slows down their connection.

    A computer tries to connect to Their Internet Service Provider slows down their connection.


    Circumvention techniques

    Generally, if there is less information about your Internet activity, it can be harder for your Internet Service Provider  or network administrator to selectively block particular types of activity. That’s why using Internet-wide encryption standards can help.

    A graphic showing an insecure HTTP request for "" from a device. The page URL and contents can be read by your network administrators, your ISP, and any entity in between.

    HTTP protects little of your browsing information...

    A graphic showing a secure HTTPS request for "" from a device. The site is revealed to your network administrators and your ISP, but they can't see the page you're viewing.

     ...HTTPS protects much more...

    A graphic showing an ideal secure HTTPS request for "" from a device. By encrypting DNS and the site name, your network administrators or ISP will have trouble figuring out what website you're viewing.

    …encrypted DNS and other protocols will protect the site name, too.

    Changing your DNS provider and using encrypted DNS

    If Internet Service Providers  are only relying on DNS blocking, changing your DNS provider and using encrypted DNS may restore your access.


    Changing your DNS provider. This can be done in the “network settings” of your device (phone or computer). Note that your new DNS provider will obtain the information about your browsing activity that your ISP once had, which can be a privacy concern depending on your threat model. Mozilla compiles a list of DNS providers that have strong privacy policies and commitments to not share your browsing data.


    Using encrypted DNS. Encrypted DNS technologies are currently being rolled out. This prevents any network actor from seeing (and filtering) your DNS traffic. You can configure DNS-over-HTTPS easily on Firefox and configure DNS-over-TLS on Android.


    Right now, there aren’t easy ways for users to do this in other applications.

    Using a VPN or Encrypted Proxy

    In this diagram, the computer uses a VPN, which encrypts its traffic and connects to The network router and Internet Service Provider might see that the computer is using a VPN, but the data is encrypted. The Internet Service Provider routes the connection to the VPN server in another country. This VPN then connects to the website.

    In this diagram, the computer uses a VPN, which encrypts its traffic and connects to The network router and Internet Service Provider might see that the computer is using a VPN, but the data is encrypted. The Internet Service Provider routes the connection to the VPN server in another country. This VPN then connects to the website.


    A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts and sends all Internet data from your computer through a server (another computer). This computer could belong to a commercial or nonprofit VPN service, your company, or a trusted contact. Once a VPN service is correctly configured, you can use it to access webpages, e-mail, instant messaging, VoIP, and any other Internet service. A VPN protects your traffic from being spied on locally, but your VPN provider can still keep records (also known as logs) of the websites you access, or even let a third party look directly at your web browsing. Depending on your threat model, the possibility of a government eavesdropping on your VPN connection or getting access to your VPN logs may be a significant risk. For some users, this could outweigh the short-term benefits of using a VPN.

    Check out our guide about choosing specific VPN services.


    Using the Tor Browser

    Tor is open-source software designed to give you anonymity on the web. Tor Browser is a web browser built on top of the Tor anonymity network. Because of how Tor routes your web browsing traffic, it also allows you to circumvent censorship. (See our How to: Use Tor guides for Linux, macOS, Windows, and Android).

    The computer uses Tor to connect to Tor routes the connection through several “relays,” which can be run by different individuals or organizations all over the world. The final “exit relay” connects to The ISP can see that you’re using Tor, but cannot easily see what site you are visiting. The owner of, similarly, can tell that someone using Tor has connected to its site, but does not know where that user is coming from.

    The computer uses Tor to connect to Tor routes the connection through several “relays,” which can be run by different individuals or organizations all over the world. The final “exit relay” connects to The ISP can see that you’re using Tor, but cannot easily see what site you are visiting. The owner of, similarly, can tell that someone using Tor has connected to its site, but does not know where that user is coming from.


    When you first start the Tor Browser, you can choose an option specifying that you are on a network that is censored:

    A screen capture of Tor's Network Settings page, which offers users extra choices via a "Configure" button if their Internet connection is censored or proxied.

    Tor will not only bypass some national censorship, but, if properly configured, can also protect your identity from an adversary listening in on your country’s networks. However, it can be slow and difficult to use, and anyone who can see your network activity may notice that you are using Tor.

    Note: Make sure you’re downloading the Tor Browser from the official website.

    Learn how to use Tor for Linux, macOS, Windows, and Android, but please be sure to tap “Configure” instead of “Connect” in the window displayed above.

    Last reviewed: 
  • How to: Encrypt Your iPhone

    If you have an iPhone 3GS or later, an iPod touch 3rd generation or later, or any iPad, you can protect the contents of your device using encryption. That means that if someone gets physical access to your device, they will also need your passcode to decrypt what's stored on it, including contacts, instant messages or texts, call logs, and email.

    In fact, most modern Apple devices encrypt their contents by default, with various levels of protection. But to protect against someone obtaining your data by physically stealing your device, you need to tie that encryption to a passphrase or code that only you know. See below for instructions on how to do this.

    On devices running iOS 4–iOS 7:

    1. Open the General settings and choose Passcode (or iTouch & Passcode).
    2. Follow the prompts to create a passcode.

    On device running iOS 8-iOS 11

    1. Open the Settings app
    2. Tap Touch ID & Passcode
    3. Follow the prompts to create a passcode.

    If your device is running iOS 8, disable Simple Passcode to create a code that is longer than 4 digits. With the release of iOS 9, Apple defaulted to a 6-digit passcode.

    If you choose a passcode that's all-numeric, you will get a numeric keypad when you need to unlock your phone, which may be easier than typing a set of letters and symbols on a tiny virtual keyboard. However, we suggest choosing a passcode that's alphanumeric, and longer than 6 characters because it's simply harder to crack, even if Apple's hardware is designed to slow down password-cracking tools.

    To customize your passcode, select "Passcode Options" and "Custom Alphanumeric Code." If you want to customize an existing passcode, select “Change Passcode” and then “Passcode Options.” You should also set the “Require passcode” option to “Immediately,” so that your device isn't unlocked when you are not using it.

    Once you've set a passcode, scroll down to the bottom of the Passcode settings page. You should see a message that says “Data protection is enabled.” This means that the device's encryption is now tied to your passcode, and that most data on your phone will need that code to unlock it.

    How to Encrypt Your iPhone 1

    Here are some other iOS features you should think about using if you're dealing with private data:

    • iTunes has an option to backup your device onto your computer. iTunes doesn't encrypt your backups by default. If you choose the “Encrypt backup” option on the Summary tab of your device in iTunes, iTunes will backup more confidential information (such as Wi-Fi passwords and email passwords), but will encrypt it all before saving it onto your computer. Be sure to keep the password you use here safe: restoring from backups is a rare event, but extra painful if you cannot remember the password to unlock the backup in an emergency.

    • If you back up to Apple's iCloud, you should use a long passphrase to protect the data, and keep that passphrase safe. While Apple encrypts most data in its backups, it may be possible for the company to obtain access for law enforcement purposes since Apple also controls the keys used for iCloud encryption.

    • If you turn on data protection as described above, you will also be able to delete your data on your device securely and quickly. In the Touch ID & Passcode settings, you can set your device to erase all its data after 10 failed passcode attempts. If you do this be sure your phone is backed up in case someone purposefully enters your passcode incorrectly.

    • According to Apple’s old Law Enforcement Guide, “Apple can extract certain categories of active data from passcode locked iOS devices. Specifically, the user generated active files on an iOS device that are contained in Apple’s native apps and for which the data is not encrypted using the passcode (“user generated active files”), can be extracted and provided to law enforcement on external media. Apple can perform this data extraction process on iOS devices running iOS 4 or more recent versions of iOS. Please note the only categories of user generated active files that can be provided to law enforcement, pursuant to a valid search warrant, are: SMS, photos, videos, contacts, audio recording, and call history. Apple cannot provide: email, calendar entries, or any third-party App data.”

    The above information applies only to iOS devices running versions of iOS prior to 8.0.

    • Now, Apple states that “For all devices running iOS 8.0 and later versions, Apple is unable to perform an iOS device data extraction as the data typically sought by law enforcement is encrypted, and Apple does not possess the encryption key.”

    REMEMBER: While Apple will be unable to extract data directly off a phone, if the device is set to sync with iCloud, or backup to a computer, much of the same data will indeed be accessible to law enforcement. Under most circumstances, iOS encryption is only effective when a device has been fully powered down (or freshly-rebooted, without being unlocked). Some attackers might be able to take valuable data from your device's memory when it's turned on. (They might even be able to take the data when it has just been turned off). Keep this in mind and, if possible, try to make sure your device is powered off (or rebooted and not unlocked) if you believe it's likely to be seized or stolen. At the time this guide was published, a few companies claimed they were able to break the passcodes of iPhones for law enforcement, but details surrounding these claims are unclear.

    • If you are concerned about your device getting lost or stolen, you can also set up your Apple device so that it can be erased remotely, using the “Find My iPhone” feature. Note that this will allow Apple to remotely request the location of your device at any time. You should balance the benefit of deleting data if you lose control of your device, with the risk of revealing your own position. (Mobile phones transmit this information to telephone companies as a matter of course; Wi-Fi devices like iPads and the iPod Touch do not.)

    Last reviewed: 
  • How to: Use Signal on iOS

    Installing Signal – Private Messenger on your iPhone

    Step 1: Download and Install Signal Private Messenger

    On your iOS device, enter the App Store and search for “Signal.” Select the app Signal - Private Messenger by Open Whisper Systems.

    Tap "GET" to download the app, then "INSTALL." You may be prompted to enter your Apple ID credentials. Once it has installed, tap “OPEN” to launch the app.

    Step 2: Register and Verify your Phone Number

    You will now see the following screen. Enter your mobile phone number and tap “Activate This Device.”

    In order to verify your phone number, you will be sent an SMS text with a six-digit code. You will now be prompted to enter that code, and then tap "Submit."

    Signal will then request permission to send you notifications. Tap "Allow."

    Step 3: Choose a Profile Name and Avatar

    The avatar and profile name you choose will be shown to any contacts you have saved in your address book, when you initiate new conversations, and when you explicitly allow contacts or groups to see this information. Enter any relevant information in this step and tap "Save," or skip this step by tapping "Skip" at the top.

    Using Signal

    In order to use Signal, the person that you are contacting must have Signal installed. If you try to call or send a message to someone using Signal and they do not have the Signal app installed, the app will ask if you would like to invite them via SMS, but it will not allow you to complete your call or send a message to them from inside the app.

    Signal provides you with a list of other Signal users in your contacts. To do this, data representing the phone numbers in your contact list is uploaded to the Signal servers, although this data is deleted almost immediately.

    How to Send an Encrypted Message

    Note that Open Whisper Systems, the makers of Signal, use other companies' infrastructure to send its users alerts that they've received a new message. They use Google on Android and Apple on iPhone. That means information about who is receiving messages and when they were received may leak to these companies.

    To get started, tap the compose icon in the upper-right corner of the screen.

    Signal will request permission to access your contacts. Tap "OK" if you are comfortable with this. If not, you can enter your contacts’ numbers manually.

    You will see a list of all the registered Signal users in your contacts.

    When you tap a contact, you'll be brought to the text-messaging screen for your contact. From this screen, you can send end-to-end encrypted text, picture, or video messages.

    How to Initiate an Encrypted Call

    To initiate an encrypted call to a contact, select that contact and then tap on the phone icon.

    At this point, Signal may ask for permission to access the microphone. Tap "OK."

    Once a call is established, your call is encrypted.

    How to Initiate an Encrypted Video Call

    To make an encrypted video call, simply call someone as described above:

    and tap the video camera icon. You may have to allow Signal to access your camera and microphone. This shares your video with your friend (your friend may have to do the same):

    How to Start an Encrypted Group Chat

    You can send an encrypted group message by tapping the compose icon in the upper-right corner of the screen (the square with a pencil pointing to the center), and then tapping the icon in the same place with three figures.

    On the following screen, you'll be able to name the group and add participants to it. After adding participants, you can tap "Create" in the upper right corner of the screen.

    This will initiate the group chat.

    If you wish to change the group name, icon, or add participants, this can be done from the group chat screen by tapping the name of the group and selecting “Edit group.”

    Mute Conversations

    Sometimes conversations can be distracting. One feature that is especially useful for group chats is muting notifications so you don't see a new notification every time a new message is written. This can be done from the group chat screen by tapping the group name and selecting “Mute.” You can then select how long you'd like the mute to be active for. This can be applied to individual conversations as well, if desired.

    How to Verify your Contacts

    At this point, you can verify the authenticity of the person you are talking with to ensure that their encryption key wasn't tampered with or replaced with the key of someone else when your application downloaded it (a process called key verification). Verifying is a process that takes place when you are physically in the presence of the person you are talking with.

    First, open the screen where you are able to message your contact, as described above. From this screen, tap the name of your contact at the top of the screen.

    From the following screen, tap "Show Safety Number."

    You will now be brought to a screen which displays a QR code and a 'safety number.' This code will be unique for every different contact you are conversing with. Have your contact navigate to the corresponding screen for their conversation with you, so that they have a QR code displayed on their screen as well.

    Back on your device, tap the QR code to scan. At this point, Signal may ask for permission to access the camera. Tap "OK."

    Now you will be able to use the camera to scan the QR code that is displayed on your contact's screen. Align your camera to the QR code:

    Hopefully, your camera will scan the QR code and show a "Safety Number Matches!" dialogue, like this:

    This indicates that you have verified your contact successfully. You should now tap "Mark as Verified" to have the app remember that your contact has been verified. If instead your screen looks like this, something has gone wrong:

    You may want to avoid discussing sensitive topics until you have verified keys with that person.

    Note for power users: The screen displaying your QR code also has an icon to share your safety number in the top-right corner. In-person verification is the preferred method, but you may have already authenticated your contact using another secure application. Since you've already verified your contact, you can safely use the trust established in that application to verify numbers within Signal, without having to be physically in the presence of your contact. In this case you can share your safety number with that application by tapping the "share" icon and sending your contact your safety number.

    Disappearing Messages

    Signal has a feature called “disappearing messages” which ensures that messages will be removed from your device and the device of your contact some chosen amount of time after they are seen.

    You do not have control over the person with whom you are chatting—she could be logging or taking screenshots of your conversation, even if you've enabled "disappearing messages."

    To enable "disappearing messages" for a conversation, open the screen where you are able to message your contact. From this screen, tap the name of the contact at the top of the screen, then tap the slider next to "Disappearing Messages."

    A slider will appear that allows you to choose how quickly messages will disappear:

    After selecting this option, you can tap the "<" icon on the top-left corner of the screen, and you should see information in the conversation indicating that “disappearing messages” have been enabled.

    You can now send messages with the assurance that they will be removed after the chosen amount of time.

    Last reviewed: 
  • Privacy for Students

    Schools are increasingly adopting surveillance technology to spy on students while they’re at school, at home, or even on their social media. The companies that make these surveillance products and services advertise them to schools as a way to keep students safe–but there’s no evidence so far that they actually protect students, and worst of all, they can harm the people they are supposed to protect.

    Surveillance isn’t normal–it’s spying. Schools that use these technologies to track and monitor students are violating their privacy. If you’re a student being spied on by one of these technologies, you’re right to be concerned.

    Techniques Used to Invade Your Privacy

    While not all of the technologies used to surveil students have the same capabilities, these are some of the techniques that can be used to track every move you make and the data that can be gathered through these techniques. The types of surveillance and related filtering technologies schools are using continue to grow, so this list does not cover every type of tool or the ways they could be used.

    Types of Data That Can Be Tracked

    • Location Data: Tracking students’ location using their device’s GPS coordinates, Wi-Fi connections, and contactless chips in bus passes/ID cards, potentially both on and off school property. Schools have used this data for automated attendance tracking and management, including for class tardiness and school bus riding, and assigning consequences such as detention.
    • Audiovisual Data: Images, video, and audio of students while they are on school grounds. These can be compared to databases of known audiovisual files to identify a person.
    • Web Browsing Data: Monitoring browsing history keeps a record of everything you read online, every site you access, and every term you search for, and then forwards this information to school administrators, and possibly reviewers employed by the surveillance service company.
    • Device Usage: Some invasive software can capture and keep a record of everything you do on a device (phone or laptop), even the things you type or delete. This can include everything you search for on the Internet, what you post on social media, and messages sent through chat applications. If you log into a website or service (like your email or social media accounts), invasive software may also capture your usernames and passwords.

    Types of Technologies That Can Track You

    • Spyware (sometimes called stalkerware): This is an application that has been installed on a device that gives the administrator full control over it. If this surveillance tool has been installed on your device, the administrator of the spyware could have access to every single file, picture, text message, email, and social media post (even the disappearing ones). Once this application is installed, the device can be monitored in real time and scanned for things like location data, contacts, call/text logs, and browser history.
    • Surveillance Cameras: Some schools have installed surveillance cameras that have the ability to identify and track students as they move across campus, both inside buildings and outdoors. These cameras may also have face recognition capabilities.
    • Microphones: Microphones can be installed at various points across a school. They can be equipped with software that is used to record and analyze all sound for the purposes of aggression and stress detection, but this technology is often inaccurate.
    • Social Media Monitoring: These are services that monitor students’ social media accounts and then report flagged content to school administrators. These services also have the potential to map who students are friends with, who they spend time with, and what topics they are interested in.
    • Internet Monitoring and Filtering: If you use school Wi-Fi, administrators can get a high-level view of your web browsing activity, and even block access to some sites. A more invasive version of this technology requires students to install a security certificate, which enables administrators to decrypt students’ encrypted Internet activity. When this kind of certificate is installed, administrators can access everything students read and type into their browsers while on school Wi-Fi, like questions on search engines, messages sent to others, and even sensitive information like passwords.
    • Document and Email Scanning: Some services integrate with productivity tools students use to complete their assignments and communicate with each other and school staff. These integrations use filters to scan the contents of what students write in services such as Google for Education (also known as G-Suite) and Microsoft’s Office 365. In some cases, these services also scan email attachments, such as images or PDFs.

    What Happens to All this Data?

    Data Aggregation, Reporting, and Sharing: Many of these services and technologies retain and store the invasive data they gather about students. This data can tell detailed stories about a student’s life and contain extremely sensitive information that can cause serious harm if there is a data leak. Some companies may even sell this data or share it with third parties. In some cases, student data is reported to school resource officers or the police.

    What Can I Do About It?

    #1. Understand How School Surveillance Affects You

    Before you can address school surveillance, it’s important to know the ways it can affect you and the people around you.

    What Do They Know?

    The best solutions for fighting back against surveillance don’t need to involve a fancy tool or workaround. Sometimes, the smartest way to beat surveillance technology is not to use the systems that are targeted by surveillance (if you can), or to be careful about the information you do reveal as you navigate using them.

    An important step in this process is finding out what, if any, surveillance technologies your school is using to track you, the devices you use (personal or school-issued), and school networks. Find out and research what the school is using, so that you know what information is being tracked and can take steps to protect yourself and your data.

    Privacy as a Team Sport

    Protecting your privacy is a job no one can do alone. While there are many steps you can take to protect your privacy on your own, the real protection comes when we protect each others’ privacy as a group. If you change your own tools and behavior, but your classmates don’t, it’s more likely that information about you will be caught up in the surveillance they are under as well.

    Let’s use an example scenario to explore how this could happen:

    You’re socializing with friends from your school, and some who go to other schools. You turned off location tracking on your mobile device, but your friends haven’t. Their devices are tracking all of their movements and how long they are in a location. One of your classmates takes a picture of everyone with their mobile device. Since their mobile device is tracking their location, this information is included in the picture’s metadata. Your friend posts the picture on their public social media profile and tags you. If your school is conducting social media surveillance, they can see who posted the picture, everyone in the picture, and the time and location the picture was taken. Even though you tried to keep yourself from being tracked, your school now knows all of this information–not just about you, but about everyone in your friend group who was there.

    You are only as protected as the least-protected person in your social group. That’s why it’s important to help each other and protect your privacy as a team.

    You may wonder, “How could the information gathered in this scenario be used to harm me or my friends?” Here are some examples:

    • Your friends who don’t attend your school are now included in your school’s surveillance system dragnet and don’t know they have been surveilled.
    • You and your friends might be attending an LGBTQ+ event when the photo was taken. If you share or discuss this photo on social media while being under school surveillance, it may trigger a scanning technology's list of keywords and notify school officials. If school officials have biases against LGBTQ+ people–or if the school gives unsupportive parents access to this information via a dashboard, parent login, or even direct notifications–this could put you or your friend's well-being at risk.
    • You might be doing political organizing for a cause, and if you’re at a private or religious school, the school and/or your parents may not approve of it depending on the issue. In this scenario, your school could suspend you or your parents could punish you for this activity.

    #2. Talk About It

    • Talk to Your Friends: Help them understand the problem, why their privacy is important to protect, and that privacy is a team sport.
    • Talk to Trusted Adults: Tell them your concerns and ask for their help.
    • Use Your Collective Voice: Tell your school how surveillance affects you. Request, at least, transparency and accountability on decisions regarding school surveillance technologies: your school should be honest about what technologies they are using, how the technologies work, and how your data is being protected. You should also ask them to provide proof that the technologies actually help improve school and student safety. You may even want to demand that your school stop using certain technologies altogether or promise not to adopt certain technologies in the future.
      • Meet with your school’s principal, information technology administrator, and other school administrators.
      • Attend school board meetings and present your concerns.
        • Find your school’s or district’s calendar of board meetings.
        • Recruit other students and have clear talking points.
        • Speak during the comment period for the topic if it’s on the agenda, or in the general comment period if it’s not on the agenda (arrive early and sit toward the front to give yourself the best chance of getting to speak).
        • Be courageous and firm. It’s your privacy, not theirs.
      • Research and write about it in your school newspaper or other student media.
      • Create a petition and organize your classmates.
      • Contact state/federal government officials and ask them to act to protect your privacy.

    Arguments You Might Encounter

    Surveillance proponents use a few common arguments to convince you to give up fighting for your privacy. Here are counterpoints you can use to push back against surveillance culture and help others understand the harm it does.

    Myth #1. “If you did nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide.”

    This argument is based on an incorrect assumption: that only “bad” people or people who broke the rules or the law want privacy. There are numerous reasons why someone would want to maintain their privacy. It comes down to this: what do you want to protect? The fact that you went to a health clinic or attended a political rally, searched online about sexual orientations or a health issue, or shared personal photos with a friend–these are all examples of things that are private and should remain that way. Privacy is about protecting things that matter to you.

    Myth #2. “You’re worried that we could use this technology to cause serious harm, but we would never do that!”

    The people in charge want you to trust that, while they could use surveillance technologies to abuse their power, they wouldn’t. It’s not a matter of trust–they shouldn’t have this power in the first place. Here’s a short film that explores the effect surveillance can have on people, with examples of how this power imbalance is unjust. Another issue is that student data is often in the hands of the companies that provide these surveillance products and services, that have control over this sensitive data, and could share it with others.

    Myth #3. “This is for your own safety.”

    There is no evidence that these technologies increase student safety, and, in fact, they have been shown to harm the very students they are intended to protect:

    Myth #4. “It’s useless to fight against it.”

    This is privacy paralysis, and this sense of helplessness is exactly how surveillance proponents want you to feel. However, you do have the power to create change. When people collectively work together to fight for what they believe in, it works. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

    #3. Minimize the Data Being Tracked

    Surveillance is all about getting as much information about you as possible: your habits, where you go and when, who you associate with, and what you care about. While the strategies described below won’t protect you from all the surveillance types described in this guide, they will help reduce the amount of data that can be collected about you.

    Lockdown Your Identity Online

    • Protect yourself on social networks:
      • Where you can, change your social media accounts to be private instead of public, and review all new follower requests before approving them. You may also want to review your current followers to make sure you know and trust them.
      • If you need a public account, consider using a separate, private account for topics, posts, or conversations you’d like to keep private.
      • Don’t just change your own social media settings and behavior. Talk with your friends about the potentially sensitive data you reveal about each other online, and how you can protect each other as a team.
      • Reduce the risks you face in online groups by adjusting visibility settings.
    • Enable two-factor authentication (or “2FA”) on as many online accounts as you can. If the data gathered about you through surveillance is leaked in a breach, having 2FA enabled will make it harder for others to access your accounts, even if they know your usernames and passwords.

    Turn Off Location Tracking When You Don’t Need It

    The way to do this can vary by device and by application. You can change your overall location-tracking preferences in your system settings, but this may not turn off location tracking completely. For example, some mobile device applications may turn your location tracking on for a variety of reasons; you may need to look at your phone’s settings, or in some cases each application’s permissions to disable it.

    Be Aware of Risks in Personal vs. School Environments

    For students worried about school surveillance, it’s critical to keep your personal and school lives separate. Avoid using school devices, accounts, and networks for personal activity. Even if your school claims to use geofencing (i.e. you’re only monitored on campus), a lot of the information can leak between your personal and school life through your Internet activity or the devices you use.

    • Devices and Networks: Everything you do on a school-issued device, even if you’re using your home Wi-Fi or another trusted network, could be tracked. Similarly, if you’re using a personal device on a school network, your activity could also be monitored. That’s why it’s best to access your personal or sensitive accounts only on your personal devices and networks you trust. This might not always be possible, but it’s a good goal.
    • Logins: Don’t use your school email address for any personal online accounts. This could expose notifications, direct messages, and other content from your personal accounts to the school’s monitoring systems.
    • Web Browsing: If there is information you don’t want your school to track, it’s better to search for those topics off of school devices and networks.

    Use Good Digital Security Practices

    And Lastly...

    Surveillance isn’t normal, and it isn’t okay. You are right to feel concerned and to want to speak up about your privacy. To learn more about how you can protect yourself, check out the rest of Surveillance Self-Defense’s guides. If you need a place to get started, take a look at our Security Starter Pack or our playlist of guides for LGBTQ Youth.

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