Modern conveniences like email, SMS, and online banking have completely revolutionized how we live and do business. But as every lover of technology knows, these breakthroughs have not been without their downsides. Instant mobile communications make life a lot easier, but it also opens up new vulnerabilities that need to be properly managed if we are to stay safe online.
Over the past few years, major hacking scandals have served as a klaxon reminding ordinary people that their personal data is not always subject to the most stringent security protocols. As the 2016 American presidential election showed, even the most powerful people in the world aren’t immune to data breaches.
If you are like most North Americans, you rely on your mobile communications hour-by-hour for everything from keeping up-to-date with work to depositing cheques to managing entertainment subscriptions, shopping, and booking flights.
This means you’re sending out large amounts of private information every day, and if you want to make sure this information doesn’t get into the wrong hands, you need to make sure that your mobile communications are as safe as they can be.
CyberSecurity: A Growing Concern for Businesses and Individuals Alike
According to the 22nd annual PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of CEOs, cybersecurity is one of the biggest threats facing businesses in 2019.
This is not only because cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated — though specialized malware like ransomware, which encrypts a computer’s hard drive and holds it for ransom until payment has been made — provide ample proof that cybercriminals are developing new techniques at an alarming rate. It is also because cybercriminals are realizing that there is a market in selling their techniques to those with less technical expertise.
According to a recent CBC story, cybercriminals are finding a secondary market by selling their programs to ordinary people who lack the coding knowledge to develop such malware themselves, but who want to rob and defraud other individuals and companies.
This development represents a serious threat because it makes cybercrime easier to carry out and harder to trace. The result is a normalization of cybercrime that poses an existential danger, particularly to small businesses.
If you own your own company, or if you work for a small business, there is a good chance that you will become a target for cybercrime at some point in the coming years — if you haven’t already. If you’re lucky, the cost of this attack will only be financial, a few thousand dollars lost to a ransomware attack. But depending on the kind of attack you are hit with, the outcome can be much worse: an estimated sixty percent of small businesses that fall victim to a cyber attack close their doors within six months.
Why You May be More Vulnerable to Cyberattacks than You Think
At this point, you may be saying to yourself that you’ve always known that cyber security poses a serious risk, which is why you are careful to avoid downloading files from torrent sites, clicking on suspicious email links, or sending out personal information to unverified contacts. That’s how hackers infect your mobile or computer in the first place, right?
While these are all good practices, they are not actually sufficient to keeping your information safe in all situations. For example, if you send SMS messages or unencrypted emails, there is a very good chance those messages are being intercepted by government surveillance agencies and hackers looking to harvest valuable information.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, there probably isn’t much that would be of value to hackers in your private communications or work emails. But the real danger occurs when you send passwords or private information that can be used for the purposes of identity theft, or to undermine the cyber security of your workplace.
One of the reasons why it is so important to keep your text messages safe is because texting can be the small gateway through which a hacker gains access to workplace information systems. Once inside an intranet network, for example, a hacker can use stolen credentials to execute a major data breach that can have devastating consequences for the entire business.
But how do you protect your private and work-related messages, and how can you benefit from the convenience that comes with these communication tools without opening the door to hackers? While there are things you can do to reduce your vulnerability to hacking, the only way to guarantee secure end-to-end communication is by making encryption part of your communication strategy.
How Encryption Works
Encryption is one of those terms that most people recognize but few truly understand. For example, Roger Stone, the disgraced former advisor to President Donald Trump indicted by Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel Investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, allegedly asked his contacts to use Facebook’s WhatsApp when talking to him because he believed that as an encrypted messaging platform it was a “secure line.”
Encryption does represent the gold standard of digital mobile communications protection, but in order to take advantage of what encryption has to offer, it is necessary to properly understand how it works.
Unlike digital security tools like firewalls, which are designed to prevent unauthorized access to networks, encryption isn’t designed to stop messages from being intercepted. Instead, encryption is designed to make it impossible for hackers or government or third party surveillance agencies to read your communications even if they manage to intercept them.
Using powerful algorithms, encryption programs digitally scramble your messages before they are sent, ensuring that only a recipient with the correct electronic key can unscramble them. While most of us are probably familiar with simple encryption codes like substitution ciphers, modern cryptography uses advanced math to generate encryption that cannot be cracked even by the most powerful computers.
Cryptography underlies some of the most important cybersecurity tools available today, but even the most powerful encryption has weaknesses. Roger Stone’s mistake was not that WhatsApp didn’t encrypt his messages; his mistake was in believing that third parties couldn’t find a way around the encryption.
Once an encrypted message arrives on a device, it is decrypted and becomes readable. If the recipient doesn’t have password protection on their phone (or if the phone is infected with spyware), it can be relatively easy for the contents of an encrypted message to be leaked. If you want to protect your communications, it is important not just to use encryption, but to find the right encryption provider.
What to Look for in an Encryption Provider
The best way to protect your personal and business communications is by finding a provider that specializes in encrypted smartphones that are specifically designed to protect all communications sent and received using state-of-the-art technology.
But this is easier said than done: concerns about the dangers of online communications have driven an encryption boom, and there are now many mobile apps that claim to provide secure encryption to protect their users’ communications. Many of these apps are not actually up to the task of providing guaranteed secure end-to-end mobile communications
If you are looking for an encryption provider that can offer the best protection on the market, here’s what you should look for:
- Specialized Software: The best encryption solutions don’t come as apps, but as special protocols that reduce the functionality of a smartphone to the sending and receiving of messages. This ensures that hackers have no way of installing malware on your phone that can circumvent your encryption program. Companies like ChatMail Secure offer proprietary encryption protocols that use Android phones to offer secure end-to-end communication.
- Self-Destructing Messages: Encryption protects messages from being deciphered when intercepted, but once the message reaches its intended recipient, it is decrypted, meaning that anyone who gets into the phone itself can read it. Self-destruct options mean that messages are only kept for a short period of time, which increases security.
- No External Storage: We live in the age of cloud computing, and many phones rely on external storage. This means that private and sensitive information is being kept not on the phone itself, but on an external server. Finding an encryption provider that does not use external servers will make your messages even more secure.
- Tamper Proofing: While encryption protects your messages from being intercepted and read by third parties, what happens if your phone falls into the wrong hands? Some encryption providers offer tamper proofing and duress password options that will ensure that your private information is wiped if someone tries to break into your phone.
- Make Sure Keys Never Leave Device: Effective encryption is all about the key, so finding encryption designed to generate private keys on the device itself using randomly generated entropy is a great way to ensure that your key stays as safe as possible.
- Usability: Finally, in making your phone safe, encryption should not make it harder to use. Encryption protocols like ChatMail Secure’s ChatMail Advanced Messaging and Parsing Protocol are designed to offer chat, image, and voice messaging that is secure but also easy to navigate.
According to recent reports, the cybersecurity outlook for 2019 looks just as grim as it did in 2018, with many of the worst fears of experts having been confirmed. Big data breaches have continued to plague the industry over the past twelve months, and ransomware has continued to pose a costly threat to individuals and businesses of all sizes.
Ordinary people and small businesses who want to ensure that they aren’t hit with a devastating data breach or a crippling cyber attack need to protect themselves with the best solutions available. And in the uncertain world of contemporary cybersecurity, the encrypted smartphone is still the best tool for the job.
How secure are your mobile communications? What do you do to secure your mobile communications? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, or Facebook. You can also comment on our MeWe page by joining the MeWe social network.