Last night, the United States elected reality TV judge Donald Trump president. Trump has repeatedly made comments about wanting to surveil mosques and Muslims, about wanting to remove thousands of undocumented immigrants from the country, and and even about building literal walls to keep people out of America. He has called for his political rivals to be put in jail, and for a special investigator to look into and ultimately jail Hillary Clinton over her email scandal.
The result of this election is starting to feel like a hodgepodge of science-fiction films and dystopian young-adult novels. You have the prospect of a walled country dominated by the wealthy—as in Elysium or the Divergent trilogy—and you have groups of political supporters threatening to attack others for their beliefs. Perhaps everyone could just be pitted against each other, Hunger Games-style. As BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow put it today: “A madman has been given the keys to the surveillance state.”
If you’re worried about living in a country where surveillance and governance are overseen by a man who can barely control his anger when people say his hands are small, then you might want to know how to encrypt and protect your digital communication over the next four, eight, or infinite years. Here are some simple steps to follow if you’re looking to launch the resistance—like The Brotherhood, the Rebel Alliance, or whatever Katniss Everdeen’s group was called—or just want a safe space to talk to friends and family:
Think up better passwords
Don’t let yourself get phished or hacked because you use your birthday, a common word, or the same phrase for every password on every site and service you use. Don’t use the same passwords as everyone else, either. Come up with strong passwords—numbers, letters, symbols, and different cases. (A simple trick to thinking up strong and easy-to-remember passwords: Spell regular words with symbols and numbers. If your name is Jeff Jones, perhaps have a password like jE44j0N&s, something you can remember even though it looks like gibberish.)
Turn on two-factor authentication
Similar to better passwords, adding a second layer of security between your information and prying eyes can only help. Many services, like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Slack, WordPress, Evernote, iCloud, LinkedIn, Dropbox, Box, and Instagram, give you the option to require a text or a code before being able to log in. Many others do too. Enable them.
Use encrypted messaging systems
As president-elect Trump has reminded us countless times during this election cycle, emails are searchable and subpoenable—even when they’re on a private server. If you want to ensure that no third parties are intercepting messages between you and your fellow resistance fighters (or just, like, your friends), use a messaging system that has end-to-end encryption. While it’s possible to secure services like iMessage and Facebook Messenger, as Fusion points out, you’re better off using a system not developed by massive tech companies that may not have your best interests in mind. Instead, use a service like Signal. The company behind that messaging app, Whisper Systems, is endorsed by technologists, cryptographers, and Edward Snowden. You can use Signal to make encrypted calls as well.
Download the Tor web browser
Tor is a web browser that, as its website explains, “protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world.” Tor’s aim is to help its users protect their anonymity as they communicate and peruse the web. In case you want to go completely incognito, the group behind the browser also makes an entire operating system called Tails that can be run off a USB or CD and is designed to support the Tor browser.
Use search engines that don’t track you
If you have a Google account—if you use Gmail, Google maps, Chrome, Android, or any of its myriad other services—Google knows everything about your life. It knows when you move, it knows what you buy, it knows the sound of your voice, it knows who you talk to, and it knows almost everything you’ve ever wanted to know the answer to. If you’re worried about thought police trawling your searches at a future show trial, try something other than Google, Bing, or Yahoo. The popular choice is DuckDuckGo.
Get a different phone
There are no perfectly secure devices, but a few come mighty close. If you’re willing to pay a hefty price, ZDNet says, there are models that security analysts trust as much as it’s possible to trust a device that has a camera, a microphone, and perpetual access to the internet. Silent Circle’s Blackphone 2 will run you $600, while super-secure phones like the German CryptoPhone 500 cost thousands of dollars. A small price to pay for security, perhaps.