Dark e-Reader: An Introduction

Kobo_ereader_touch_black_frontThis has been a concept I’ve been tossing around in my head for a while, and it’s one that will deserve a lot of exploration in the future, as well as updating, but I think this is a very clever possibility for having a Dark Android-style, DAPS-compatible device. The idea is to take an e-reader and use it for sending encrypted emails, making Bitcoin transactions (and thus doing anonymous shopping), as well as perhaps a degree of encrypted–or not so encrypted–messaging.

The advantages of using an e-reader for these tasks are many, but the big one is that e-readers are unassuming. I’ve heard stories where people have had their phones, tablets, or computers stolen, but the e-reader was literally tossed out of the bag by the thieves. Also, at border checkpoints, I’d venture that these devices would be completely ignored once an e-reader is recognized for what it is. No one anticipates an e-reader to be anything of interest. Another big advantage is that due to e-Ink screens, the battery life on these devices is insane. Of course the conventionally perceived disadvantage is that the e-readers I recommend are WiFi-only. But I actually see them NOT having a SIM card to be an advantage, and getting a persistent internet connection to one of these devices is an easy workaround (WiFi tethering, mobile hotspots, using it at restaurants, etc.).

So let’s talk about hardware for a minute. There are two viable options, in my opinion for which e-reader to get, and neither of them are part of Amazon’s Kindle line. Why no Kindles? Simple, Amazon has made it very clear in their EULA that anything entered and done on their web browsers (which all Kindles have custom Amazon-made web browsers) is recorded by Amazon. I appreciate them being honest, but obviously I don’t appreciate and cannot support the use of software that intentionally records every little thing you type and do. Some of you may not have even realized that there are other e-readers still out there, but there are, and they are decently popular. I’ll list the two I recommend here:

  1. Kobo Aura H2O: I consider this the best of the bunch. For one, it’s waterproof/dustproof/etc. And with a pretty solid design, this device is nearly indestructible throughout everyday conditions and activities for the average person (no, don’t use this if you’re exploring volcanoes, duh). It has most of the abilities and features of a Kindle Paperwhite (blacklit e-Ink screen, web browser, bookstore, and WiFi, month-long battery life), along with a feature that Kindles don’t have: expandable memory via a MicroSD slot. This means you could easily carry multiple small, indestructible, 32GB MicroSD cards and have a massive library with you. And even the Aura’s e-Ink screen is black and white, it is compatible with more file types than Kindles, including comic book files like .cbr and .cbz, as well as .jpg. It’s a better e-reader in every way, and its web browser doesn’t record your every action, which is key.
  2. ONYX BOOX series: The company ONYX has a couple of different models, and either of them are fine. While they’re not waterproof, they do have an advantage: they’re essentially Android tablets with e-Ink screens. Running Android 4.22, it means that you can access the Play Store or–more importantly–the F-Droid app repository, and you could access Tor with it (using apps from The Guardian Project), along with doing many other things. They’re not terribly inexpensive, but you may consider having Android installed as worth it.

What I’m about to list off that you can do to make your e-reader “go dark” will mainly apply to an e-reader that you have that doesn’t run Android. If you want to know how to do more with a device that is running Android, please check out Dark Android’s main page. And it should go without saying, but I’ll say it, don’t “log in” to an e-reader or device with any “real life” information. Let’s get started…

EMAIL:

How do we send encrypted emails? Options for this have opened up significantly as late, and there are three options that I would recommend, all three of which allow use directly through their website, no app required. Of course, keep in mind that sending emails through a website is not as secure as having a full app or software solution for it, but the below options are certainly still very viable, and they require very basic setup to create private keys (a task that is usually complex, and is the reason most people don’t use encrypted email).

  • Protonmail.ch: An intriguing option, but it has certain limitations.
  • Tutanota.de: A solid choice, and it will eventually allow you to use it with your own domain name (for a fee, that you can pay with Bitcoin).
  • Whiteout.io: A simple PGP option, but also a well done one that does have free and paid options.

There are other options out there, but those are three of the most popular with the best features, in my opinion. So yes, PGP-encrypted email is completely possible from an e-reader.

BITCOIN:

Yes, you can use Bitcoin with an e-reader, as long as you’re connected to WiFi. Of course, if you weren’t connected to WiFi, you could keep a picture file of your wallet’s QR code on your e-reader to be able to at least receive bitcoin, and then confirm it all after you’ve connected to WiFi. But full wallet solutions are what we want here. Let’s list some off…

  • Blockchain.com: I don’t trust Blockchain.com as a company. Too many times have I heard stories where theft has occurred, and their wallet apps have been removed from bitcoin.org as a good option. But it is a possibility to use it if you wish to do so, and it does have a simple setup and wallet backup options.
  • Greenaddress.it: Another “wallet on the web” option that has interesting security features, and is one I often recommend.
  • Coinbase: Coinbase is the way to turn bitcoins into dollars, and their web wallet works well. But forget about having any kind of anonymity using Coinbase. So in my opinion, it’s not viable on a “dark” device.
  • Rushwallet: This is my top choice as far as web wallets (with Greenaddress being a close second). Easy to setup, and gives you a lot of options of controlling your keys, all you need is the URL of your wallet and you can access it anywhere, including on your e-reader (obviously). While not listed on bitcoin.org, it never was in the first place (so it’s not the same as getting removed from it). I consider it a solid option for any device your using, and your anonymity (and potentially “plausible deniability”) is very possible with Rushwallet.

Using gyft.com and getting their gift cards with Bitcoin makes a lot of this far more viable. You’ll be able to purchase things from online stores, even go to Starbucks, all anonymously, and using nothing but your e-reader.

MESSAGING:

This is where things get interesting. It’s easy enough certainly to use Facebook’s or Twitter’s mobile web site to do messaging with people. Twitter would be the preferable of those two options, as you could set up Twitter anonymously, and it uses perfect forward secrecy. But what about doing something encrypted? Telegram has a web version of their service, but keep in mind that if you follow the EFF’s messaging service scorecard, non-Secret Chat use of Telegram (Secret Chat can only be done via the iOS or Android app) gets a 4 out of 7 score, not a 7 out of 7 like Telegram’s Secret Chat does.

Some might even recommend setting up your email to use Bitmessage.ch, which allows your email address to act as a gateway to using Bitmessage, but I think this defeats the whole purpose of Bitmessage’s encryption goals.

You could use KiwiIRC for connecting to IRC, but of course, that’s not encrypted. IRC is a very important communication medium, however, so being able to access it with an e-reader is a powerful option, nonetheless.

And obviously, like with any fully set up Dark Android device, SMS isn’t really possible here.

Bottom line, messaging on your e-reader is possible, but it’s a mixed bag as far as anonymity and encryption (if at all, honestly, as I am open to the idea that Telegram is a questionable option).

CONCLUSION:

This is just an introduction to the idea, and as services keep adding more and more features that can be done simply through their websites, what you can do with an e-reader in an anonymous, secure, and private fashion will grow and need to be addressed.

Other things that could be touched on could be the health benefits of using an e-Ink screen, and of having a device that doesn’t really multitask, thus allowing you to concentrate more, get more done, and just have a lot of mental peace…and that’s not even getting into the idea of the benefit of reading more books, and having lots of books at your disposal–offline–when you may need them most (like having a survival guide on a hiking trip).

Remember, the Dark Android Project does mainly concentrate on Android, yes, but it’s really about helping people regain control of their data and their lives not just from the “Surveillance State”, but from something far more insidious…the “Surveillance Society” that we live in.

Carpe lucem!

 

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