As corporations and governments dig deeper into our conversations and habits, there may come a time when you want to speak with someone – or just communicate with them – and not have anyone else “listen in”.
Sorry to break it to you, but those days are long gone.
Or are they?
With a bit of effort, you can – at the very least – make it more difficult for someone to know what you’re saying, and to whom you’re saying it.
Below, I’m going to talk about some very cool things you can do. Keep this in mind, though: With enough time and resources any code or cypher can be broken. Depending upon the strength of the code or encryption, that timeline might be minutes, hours, weeks, months or years. But it WILL eventually be broken if the right people have the right resources and the right motivation to crack it.
This leads to the next point: Don’t give them the motivation to crack it! If you’re doing something that is a threat to national security, for instance, they’ll throw everything they’ve got at you. You might as well of run a post on Facebook.
As a general rule, if you’re simply passing along information you don’t want in public (might be something embarrassing or, business trade or strategic secrets, for instance), these tools will work wonders. To be successful with your covert communications, you must do this:
Hide the sender/originator (you)
Hide the content (encrypt/encode)
Hide the receiver (your confederate)
In most instances, you won’t be able to do all three. BUT, you can almost always do at least two of them. And that will at least slow down the people looking into your business.
You’ve seen them on TV and movies: The bad guy (or a good guy that’s trying to clear his name) whips out a Burner Phone, makes a couple of important calls, then destroys the phone.
Well folks, these phones really do exist, they’re inexpensive (as low as $35 total), and it’s very easy to hide your identity when using them.
I can tell you I’ve got a number of these phones. They have come in very handy for mundane tasks – being covert was not one of them – and they worked like a charm. I keep them in my Get Home Bag, Bug Out Bag…. and other places. I pre-load the numbers I may need to call, remove the battery, and place them in a ziplock bag.
Every 6 months or so, I plug them into the wall socket to recharge the battery, and then back they go.
As explained in this article –
Commonly known as a burner phone, a backup, essentially disposable phone isn’t only useful for secret agents and criminals. There are a long list of reasons why having a spare phone with a different phone number might come in handy — lose/break your primary cell phone, selling something via Craig’s List, traveling and don’t want to risk your $900 smart phone, and so on.
You can also do something similar with the TracFones you see in stores all around the country.
The key to being successful in hiding your identity is to BUY WITH CASH. If you buy it on Amazon.com as the author of the article suggests, any calls made can eventually be tied to you. Same goes if you use a credit or debit card. Cash only for anonymity.
If you find you MUST use a computer to do any type of registration, use a public one (library) or one at your place of work (not YOUR computer). Obviously use a fake name and “burner” email address that’s not tied to any of your regular email accounts. One time, I had to provide a physical address. I gave them the address of a massage parlor in the town I told them I lived!
Encoding or Encrypting
Most people have heard of encryption when it comes to their computer and email. In essence, you take “clear text”, run it through a program, and send your message. The person on the receiving end of the message opens it, and de-crypts the message using the same software.
In some cases, this is an effortless process. Every time you use a website to buy something, your personal information is automatically encrypted by the website, then is de-crypted by the seller of the product in their Orders department.
You too can design your own encryption, and you don’t need to be an MIT math whiz!
As this article explains, designing a secret code is not that difficult. The more difficulty you add to the process, the longer it will take to break it.
If you use a 1=A, 2=B, 3=C style of code, your 8 year old nephew will likely be able to break the code! More effort and complexity will go a long way.
Information seems to have lost its value. It is sent about carelessly, caution thrown to the the wind. People think they might be taking excellent precautions, but few things are safe. Phone lines can be tapped, emails hacked, and mail intercepted. At some point in time you will need to give someone a message and there can be no chance of someone else getting their hands on it. This instructables will go in-depth into how to code, cipher, and disguise any messages that can’t be compromised.
Obviously, you will need to ensure the receiver of the message has the same code/de-code information you had when you encrypted the message.
No, NOT stenography (short-hand or dictation) Steganography is the practice of hiding information in the un-used bits and bytes in photographs.
Every digital picture has lots and lots of unused space. The bigger the picture, the more space is available. What steganography does is replaces those open spaces with your text. When the image is saved, the picture looks the same, but the message is hidden in side.
The receiver(s) of your message get the picture (say, in an email with a bunch of other pictures) and read the message.
As with encryption and de-cryption, you don’t need to be a computer programmer to use this. There are a number of free steganography programs out there.
Don’t believe it? One of the hundreds of free steganography programs can be found here. It is brain-dead easy to use (no, we’re not getting a paid endorsement here!). Most of these companies give away the less-powerful version to entice you to buy the more-powerful, full-encryption, wash your car version.
Like the personal cyper/encryption plan, both the sender and the receiver of the image must use the same steganography program.
In short, these people have come up with a way to split, then hollow out actual US coinage (plus some foreign coins as well). This new space in the coin can then be filled with a small piece of paper with a message, or, as the image to the left suggests, with a micro-SD card.
These cards can hold absolutely TONS of information. Making a quick check online, I see that there are now micro SD cards capable of holding 512 gigabytes. Not MEGAbytes, but GIGAbytes.
That’s like a whole hard drive on a chip the size of a thumbnail! I’m sure that will be doubled in the next 20 minutes or so!
Anyways, these allow your information to be “hidden in plain sight” much like the steganography. These coins feel about the same in your hand, and are the same dimensions as an un-altered coin, so don’t go dropping them into a soda machine!
Also, if you are intending on using a micro SD card in one of these, stick with the nickel or the half-dollar. The quarter isn’t thick enough to hold the card.
Before You Get Started
A couple of things to think about before getting started with covert communications:
Assume someone will intercept your message. If you’re using a burner phone, use an encoded text message instead of a voice call. Same with using steganography. If you’re using a hollow coin, encrypt the information on the SD card before you put it in there.
When using a steganography program, some websites won’t allow the use of .BMP images – which is the typical format the programs use when adding the text to the image. Test this ahead of time before putting your messaging system into play.
Want More Information? See Covert Communications.