For years now, the world has been split on their opinion of whistleblower Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA’s mass surveillance programs that went completely unchecked for years. One thing no one can argue against, whether they believe Snowden is a traitor or a savior, is that his work has helped increase our privacy.
It was only after Snowden’s revelations that we saw a spike in what has now become an industry requirement – data encryption. After the NSA scandal, messaging apps providing end-to-end encryption started popping up; even WhatsApp introduced the feature. Companies around the world announced data traveling through their servers was completely encrypted. Privacy became something that was expected from services. No privacy now means no users.
Encryption is the one way we can protect our online data, it’s the one way we can protect our cyber secrets. What are these cyber secrets we talk of? Well, pretty much any information you have that you wouldn’t want others to know about. The messages you send, some photos you take, your browsing history, for instance. And then, there are the things you do in your own home where privacy is something you take for granted.
Some people don’t have the luxury of this kind of privacy or may have this threatened by certain individuals. There are the regular burglars many of us may face, and then there are people who are targeted due to the jobs they do, like investigative journalists or activists someone somewhere may want to be silenced.
Protection à la Snowden
Edward Snowden has recently announced a brand new Android app, with plans for an iPhone version to be released soon, called Haven. What Haven does is act as a sort of spy/guardian tool.
The app can be installed on pretty much any Android phone, although it is preferred you don’t use your main phone, but a secondary one, an old phone you no longer use, for instance. Why? Because this is a tool that can turn your phone into your home’s guardian.
Released in partnership with The Guardian Project, Haven uses the phone’s sensors, accelerometer, camera, microphone, ambient light sensors and so on, in order to detect movement of the device and surrounding vibrations, track movements, noises, changes in lights and power.
“Haven detects changes in the environment using the sensors in a typical smartphone – the camera, microphone, gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light, USB power – to alert you if anyone enters your space or attempts to tamper with your devices while you aren’t there,” the announcement reads.
The app requires the phone you install it on have a SIM card so that it can send you notifications on your main device. It does this by using a secure channel such as Signal, or Tor, making sure every piece of information is encrypted.
The phone can be positioned in a way so that the camera can capture visible motion, so that if someone enters your home when you’re not there, perhaps trying to do everything it can to reveal your secrets, or tamper with your work, you’ll know it.
In a way, Haven is a cheap alternative to home security set-ups, since you’d be using an old phone. Furthermore, it’s also a lot more inconspicuous than a large camera mounted on the wall. Haven seeks to make sure your home or office, places where you believe you can be yourself and not keep any particular secrets, remain that way. If anything happens, however, you’re sure to know about it.
The many uses of Haven
As the authors explain, this is a great tool for investigative journalists, human rights defenders, and people at risk of forced disappearance. While this may seem like a foreign idea to many of us, there are plenty of people at risk of such things happening to them. Back when the Snowden story hit, for instance, Glenn Greenwald, the journalist that made contact with the whistleblower initially and was the author of many of the articles published at the time, published an article in which he expressed the feeling of being watched at every corner, including in his own home. Then, surprisingly, while he was sleeping, his laptop disappeared from inside his home. Such situations happen all the time, especially as criminals, or corrupt politicians, or government entities feel like someone is getting too close to the truth.
It’s clear that this isn’t the type of app that is meant to be used by everyone, but it is something that can be of use to people. What can you really do if the app signals you someone has entered your home and is scouring through your things? Well, not much unless you’re Liam Neeson in “Taken,” but you can maybe have a chance to see who it is, capture footage, and hand over to the police, for instance. This is the type of app that gives many the feeling that it’s something Snowden designed for his own use out of that ingrained paranoia every spy is equipped with (although in his case, it’s a pretty valid concern). Then, figuring it’s something that may actually be of use to other people in his situation, he released it into the wild. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, but it does pose the question about who this app is really for.
In the meantime, Haven is here to help. The project is open-source, so the code can be checked for bugs and backdoors if that’s anyone’s worry.