Here at the Dark Android Project, one of the top questions I receive goes something like this: “Hey, Dr. Sovryn, I have an iOS device. Is there anything I can do to make it similar to a Dark Android-style device?”
I love the question, because honestly, there’s a part of me that still loves Apple. The Mac G4 Cube is still my favorite computer of all time (it even bests the Commodore 64, in my book). Also, in my opinion, if you’re not going to run AOSP or CyanogenMod (or something similar) on your Android device, I think you might as well use one of Apple’s offerings. Google’s Android is just as privacy-encroaching as iOS, and is getting ever nearer with each successive release to becoming as closed-source as iOS is. And I’ll admit, there’s a certain appeal to not having to worry about device compatibility, etc., since Apple releases all of its iOS revisions to every device from the iPhone 4S up. That means you’re getting a lot of security, and a lot of bugfixes, that Google just can’t guarantee to the thousands of different devices that run Android. Now I’m not saying that I prefer that style of hardware development (it’s a byproduct of iOS’ closed-source nature, which I generally don’t support “closed-source” where possible), but I can definitely understand the appeal. But if Apple ever made a waterproof iOS device, I have to admit I might jump on that.
Regardless, let’s get to the question at hand. What can you do to secure your iOS device and reclaim some privacy and anonymity?
First off, don’t jailbreak your iOS device. It’s a process that is pretty sketchy, in my opinion, and if you are using an iOS device, I don’t recommend endangering in any way the process of getting updates from Mother Apple. Just don’t do it. The other reason I say don’t jailbreak it is that the few apps I’m going to recommend to you that I consider the only things worth installing on your iOS device (if you’re looking for privacy, anonymity, and security) just don’t need the device to be jailbroken. So again, little point in going through the headache.
So what are these apps that I recommend? You’re in luck, because it’s a short list…
- Signal: Developed by Moxie Marlinspike’s Open Whisper Systems team, this is the platinum-standard of secure communications. It’s Android equivalent (TextSecure) is also the top of the line. Client-side, open-source encryption makes this perhaps the most important app you can put on an iOS device. It’s important to keep in mind that it is not cross-platform in any way, but if you already use iMessage I imagine you’re already used to that. Signal is actually better than Android’s TextSecure in that it is everything Open Whisper Systems makes wrapped into one, so you can even do encrypted voice calls through it. Seriously, if you’re using iOS, Signal is your new best friend (and should become the best friend of your friends, too).
- ArcBit: The cornerstone for any Dark Android device is its ability to buy things with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and a “Dark iOS” device would be no different. A new entry into the fray of iOS Bitcoin wallets is ArcBit, by a former member of Blockchain.com. It has pretty much any feature you could want in a Bitcoin wallet, including the ability to use stealth addresses, which is pretty impressive. I’ll admit that given Apple’s rocky (though easily explainable) history with Bitcoin app support, you may want to use this with caution. My normal recommendation for Dark Android is to use RushWallet for Bitcoins, which would not be affected if Apple ever decided to remove Bitcoin app support again, since it simply runs in the browser, and does so very well on mobile devices. Either one you choose should serve your “Dark iOS” purposes.
- But speaking of browsers. As I understand it, using Google Chrome on iOS devices is a popular thing. Don’t do it (Google IS evil). While Apple’s Safari web browser may be a bit behind the times, one key aspect of being able to have a secure device is to not install things that aren’t necessary (and thus bloat-up a device and create more security holes) and to keep things pretty minimalist. So let Safari do what it does, and don’t bother with Chrome. To access social media and a lot of the things you’d normally do with an app (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), you’re going to want to use the website versions of those services, and Safari will handle those just fine. However, if you want to access Tor, let’s cover that next…
- Onion Browser: If you want to access Tor websites, this is your key. It has decent features and could easily be used as your primary web browser (even supplanting Safari) if one chooses. It is updated often, which is very important since you want apps that address the latest security issues and bugs that we continually encounter in our interconnected world.
- Telegram: This one is a “bonus round”. Telegram, kind of like the aforementioned Signal, is an open-source client-side encryption messaging app. While some are skeptical of its relatively new encryption protocol (MTproto), it is an app that is cross-platform (you can use it across devices), and it is used by many anarchist/liberty activists around the world. Most importantly, it is also owned and operated by Russian multi-millionaire Pavel Durov, who is well known for being an anarchist, and for wanting to “give the finger to the Man”. To my point, I have a saying, “Don’t follow the money, follow the attitude”, and Durov has most of the right attitudes for “Dark iOS” or Dark Android purposes. There are also third-party services like Telebit that allow you to actually have a Bitcoin wallet functioning with Telegram itself. But again, it’s up to your personal threshold on how you feel about trusting Telegram. If your life is on the line, maybe you want to rely more on Signal, but Telegram is still a solid option, in my opinion, and worthy of having “on standby” on your device since much of the world has recently moved from WhatsApp to Telegram as their communication standard. And getting people used to encrypting everything they do is a key step to achieving more freedom in your own life.
That’s it. See? I told you it was a short list. There may be other apps that are useful that I don’t know about in the App Store, but the ones I listed above are where I would start and concentrate on.
Since the Dark Android Project is all about regaining your privacy, security, and anonymity in our “mobile world”–and to make it expensive for various alphabet-soup organizations to track us (ie: NSA, FBI, GCHQ)–I may do updates on “Dark iOS” in the future. But due to the closed-source nature of iOS itself, it’s a good bet that it will always be a very short list of what you can even remotely trust.