NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has helped create a new way to protect you from potential snoops.
Snowden joined with the Freedom of the Press Foundation to create an open-source Android app called Haven, which turns your phone into a pocket-sized security system. All you need is a spare phone and a healthy dose of paranoia.
Here’s how the app works: Place a phone with Haven installed anywhere you want to keep secure—your bedroom, office, next to a laptop storing troves of government secrets, whatever. Haven will flick on the phone’s mic to listen for intruders, turn on the camera to catch a lurker on video, and use the accelerometer to pick up any movement of the device itself. It also uses the ambient light sensor to catch changes in light and the power monitor to detect if it’s been plugged in or unplugged. The app will then automatically send updates, including audio and video, to your primary phone anytime some shit goes down.
To be extra secure, alerts are sent through Signal, the popular, Snowden-endorsed encrypted messaging app. If you don’t want real-time updates, you can check the Haven-loaded phone’s log, either remotely using the Tor Browser or on the device itself. Haven’s public beta is out now in the Play Store and on F-Droid for free download.
“Imagine if you had a guard dog you could take with you to any hotel room and leave it in your room when you’re not there,” Snowden told Wired. “The real idea is to establish that the physical spaces around you can be trusted.”
The problem Haven aims to address is known as an “evil maid” attack. Basically, many of the precautions you might take to protect your cybersecurity can go out the window if someone gains physical access to your device. If that happens without your knowledge, a malicious actor could have eyes and ears on all your private files and you’re none the wiser.
Haven’s primary purpose, then, is to guard your laptop or other devices against anyone who might try to tamper with them. But the app can be helpful in other scenarios as well. It’s a much cheaper alternative to security cameras, and the versatility of a mobile device as a miniature security system makes Haven a good option for more sensitive situations. Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Intercept that the app could be a good way to help teenagers wary of their parents or adults wary of abusive partners.
It’s not foolproof, however. An especially sharp attacker could jam wi-fi, SMS, or mobile data—or, if they know your passcode, log into the Haven-packing phone and clear the logs themselves. Still, this is a free and relatively easy solution that can be calibrated to protect against sophisticated attacks or, for most of us, to simply keep our pesky parents or roommates in check.