Snowden-Backed Android App Turns A Phone Into A Guard Dog

Digital privacy has been a major concern ever since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed just how deep U.S. government surveillance goes, but Snowden and his collaborators now have a solution: an Android app designed to turn a phone into a guard dog. Many take their laptops everywhere with them, especially on trips, and the devices contain a slew of personal information. From passwords remembered into a browser to emails to various conversations on messaging platforms, multiple accounts, encryption keys, and more, laptops contain a lot of sensitive information that could fall into the wrong hands, especially if someone has physical access to the device. The so-called “evil maid,” for instance, could hack one’s laptop within a few minutes if they get physical access to it, and could install spyware or obtain various information.

The new mobile app backed by Snowden and his NGO, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and the Guardian Project, is called Haven and is designed to make use of a phone’s features to guard the physical space around it. More specifically, Haven is designed to be installed on a secondary phone, perhaps a burner, which can be left around in the hotel room with the laptop and other sensitive devices. Haven is designed to use the phone’s camera, microphone, and array of sensors, such as a light sensor and motion sensor. For instance, the phone with the Haven app can use its microphone to detect if someone enters the room, the light sensor to detect if someone turns the light on or off or uses a lantern, and the motion sensor to detect if someone picks it up. The phone can then use its camera to capture snapshots of its surroundings, which might include the intruder.

Simply put, Haven aims to transform a regular Android phone into a guard dog for detecting any potential intrusions. The app will log all evidence and the user can later review it to determine whether their privacy has been compromised. It can also send the evidence, including photos and sound clips, to one’s main smartphone, to alert them of the intrusion. Haven is designed to witness what’s going on in the user’s absence, and record everything. While the app is primarily meant to protect users against hackers and “evil maids,” it may also prove useful in everyday scenarios involving nosy roommates or colleagues, abusive spouses, or other privacy invaders. To keep the data it records private, Haven also integrates encrypted messaging app Signal to ensure that all of the alerts it sends are protected by end-to-end encryption. Moreover, users can also set Haven to work with Orbot, an Android app that can turn one’s phone into a sort of a darknet server called Tor Onion Service, which protects the information through Tor’s almost untraceable connection.

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