Protect Yourself From Hackers and the NSA

Everybody's talking about hackers and the NSA stealing our data. Here's how to do something about it.

Mike Elgan

The downside of email, chat, text and messaging apps is that they make you feel like you're communicating privately, with only the intended recipients. And that your messages are private. Until they're not.

The employees and management at Sony Pictures Entertainment could tell you that.

On Nov. 24, the North Koreans (or the "Guardians of Peace" hacker group, or a disgruntled employee, or Russia) downloaded more than 100TB of Sony data and then irreversibly erased Sony PC and server data. The damage would be eventually estimated at $15 million.

But that dollar amount is nothing compared with the endless problems revealed in the leaked emails. Sony executives were exposed as racially insulting the president. Hollywood stars found out they were being paid less than peers and renegotiated their contracts. Bickering between studio chiefs and major stars was revealed. Executives insulted celebrities behind their backs (For example, one honcho referred to actress and director Angelina Jolie as "a minimally talented spoiled brat").

One unfortunate fact makes email and other messaging apps especially vulnerable to snoops -- you can't control it because it also resides elsewhere. People focus on Sony employees whose emails were compromised. But what about the people outside Sony they corresponded with? Their communication with Sony employees got compromised, too. The truth is that even if you have an aggressive purge policy that calls for deleting email after a certain amount of time, there will probably still be copies of the deleted messages with people outside the company.

There has to be a better way. Or two.

This week, two communication apps have been in the news and they're worth looking at. They're called Confide and Dstrux, and they're similar to, say, Snapchat in that they're designed to be "ephemeral" message services. But unlike Snapchat, they're aimed at professionals.


Confide is a free service accessible via free apps for iOS and Android. Confide was in the news this week because the company released new features that prevent users from taking screenshots of messages and shared documents and photos. It also made it easier to import email conversations. So when a conversation on email becomes confidential, you really can "take it offline" if you have Confide.

You send a message, along with an attached document or photo. Confide supports the sharing of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files stored on Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive and other document-storage services.

As soon as you send it, it gets encrypted. When the recipient opens it, the content is blurry and unreadable. It can only be read by touching the screen, and only the line under the finger is readable. So even if someone snaps a picture of the screen, only the one exposed line is captured. There's no way to see the whole message at once. When the recipient is done viewing and taps "close," the message is deleted irretrievably.

Confide is also working on a paid version called Confide for Business, which the company says will ship in "early 2015." Confide for Business will have address book integration, distribution lists and other features. Confide is also working on a desktop version.

When you send a message to someone who doesn't have the Confide app installed, a button on the recipient's message opens the Apple App Store or Google Play Store on the Confide page so he can download it.

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