Beginner-Friendly Privacy Tools/Services

Monday, September 19, 2016 @ 8:00 pm

After Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, there has been an explosion in privacy-focused tools/services. Some were short-lived due to being too complicated for the average user to use, while others continue to thrive and grow.

This post showcases the successful ones, most of which happen to be beginner-friendly. As a bonus I’ve included some more advanced tools that I personally use.

I have sorted the projects into two categories:

  1. Everyday – beginner-friendly tools/services that are easy to use (just install/register and go)
  2. Advanced – tools/services that require some technical knowledge and time to familiarize oneself with, more for the technologically paranoid

If you should take anything from this post, it would be to try out all of the tools/services under the “Everyday” heading.

All of the tools/services mentioned in this post are free.

Beginner-Friendly Privacy Tools
A buffet of privacy

Everyday

Below each of the tools/projects, I have listed the existing mainstream services they are a good secure replacement for:

  • Email: ProtonMail. Features a sleek user interface, the ability to create custom filters and labels, and Android/iOS mobile apps. The free account comes with 500MB, which is sufficient for the average user. My set up is: I point sensitive services to send emails to my ProtonMail account (e.g. banking, online orders), and use Gmail for everything else. This allows me to be efficient with my ProtonMail storage space while ensuring sensitive email isn’t being datamined by Google.
    • Replaces Gmail, Hotmail/Outlook, Yahoo
  • Texting/Calling: Signal. A mobile app (Android/iOS) which allows you to text/call friends and family. Has a desktop app as well. Messages/calls are encrypted if you and your contact both have Signal installed. If not, it will gracefully downgrade to a standard text message/phone call.
    • Replaces instant messaging apps (e.g. default SMS app, Telegram, Whatsapp)
  • Desktop Chatting: Cryptocat. A desktop-only chat program for Mac/Windows/Linux which is reminiscent of MSN/ICQ. As a cat person, I can’t help but love it. File-sending up to 200mb supported. Group chat said to be under development. Mobile apps uncertain.
    • Replaces ICQ, MSN (now discontinued)
  • Video Calls: Wire. A sleek app which allows you to make voice and video calls on all major desktop and mobile platforms. Supports group calls (up to 10 people – increased from 5 in July 2016).
    • Replaces Skype, Google Hangouts

All of the above services feature end-to-end encryption.

  • Social Network: MeWe. A promising and feature-rich privacy-focused social network for which Sir Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the World Wide Web) serves as an Advisor.
    • Replaces Facebook, Myspace (if anyone still uses it)

Honourable mentions also go out to Ello and Diaspora, which are alternative social network platforms.

Advanced

  • Password Management: KeePass. A highly secure password manager allowing you to generate and store credentials. I personally use Keepass2Android Offline on my mobile devices.
  • Anonymous Browsing: Tor Browser. Mask your browsing activities by bouncing them around the world.
  • Cloud Storage: unfortunately there’s no one recommended provider for this. The consensus in the privacy community is: it’s best to create your own (with ownCloud). You could choose to use Cryptomator with existing providers (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive).
  • Disk Encryption: VeraCrypt. Quite definitively the best disk encryption tool post-TrueCrypt. The latest version fixes a TrueCrypt vulnerability which allowed for the detection of hidden volumes.
  • Data Syncing: Syncthing. Install this on each of your computers to automatically keep an identical set of folders/files on all. Ideal for redundancy, not storage.
  • File Sharing: OnionShare. Anonymously share files of any size. Requires Tor.