Secure Messaging

One of the most common questions I get is what secure messaging system to use on Mobile devices. That’s a rather complicated question so it’s worth digging into.

First, you have to ask, who is your adversary? If it’s the government, you’ll have to take wildly different preventative measures than, say, a random eavesdropper. But that said, some of the tactics are simple enough.

For instance, the first thing I always tell people to look for is end to end encryption. If you are only encrypted to a server and that server then can read everything you write, it’s not a good solution. For instance, email is does not have end to end encryption built in, which is why Gmail is a poor choice for secure messaging.

Next, you want to look for something that automatically deletes your messages after a certain amount of time. Lots of systems allow you to have end to end encryption but then keep the data around forever. You can’t guarantee that the messages will be safe from an adversary forever. So make sure the data is deleted after a certain amount of time.

Next, make sure that the systems are resilient against forgot password/account changes, or account takeover. Just because you are talking to a person one day doesn’t mean you are talking to the same person the second day. So lots of platforms are automatically out since they don’t warn you when that occurs.

Generally speaking my favorites are Signal (with ephemeral messaging enabled), Wickr, and Facebook messaging (when you’re in secure mode with ephemeral messaging enabled). Wickr is the only one of the three that turns it on automatically, but it’s also the least used. Facebook is great, but it is Facebook and doesn’t default to secure mode opportunistically because it doesn’t work with mobile to desktop chat. Signal is great because it is a stand alone app but it also doesn’t enable ephemeral messaging by default. Wickr doesn’t tie to a phone number in the same way that Signal does so that is a nice added feature if you want to keep that detail private. Neither Signal, nor Wickr require you to have an identity, like Facebook does, but Facebook is by far the biggest platform.

Some people will bring up Whatsapp, but they are very similar to Facebook since they are owned by Facebook. And it’s worth mentioning iMessage in passing because they do have end to end encryption, but as soon as you sync with iCloud, your information is imperiled once more.

So there are some tradeoffs and you need to research what is right for you. I think ephemeral messages are a very important feature that most people don’t think about. It’s certainly something you should be aware of before you pick one. Or use all three. But whatever you do, don’t use default built-in chat clients.

Rise of the Mobile Influencer

Since you’re reading this site, you are aware of (or are at least curious about) running an entire business off of a smartphone. You have probably set some rules for yourself on how to make your own experiment work. Considering it is currently possible to code on a phone if you’re a self-identified creator, chances are this is all old hat to you as you take photographs of your lunch with a barfing rainbow filter. Today’s guest post comes from Joe Sinkwitz, CEO of Intellifluence, on how the worlds of influence and smartphone usage as primary devices have already collided, with the result being the mobile influencer reigning supreme.

The Intersect

Perhaps the easiest way to describe how the mobile influencer came to be the most powerful advertising force is to look at the intersection of growth among the demographics of smartphone users and specific social network uses.

Leading social networks
Leading social networks

Keep in mind that Snapchat, WhatsApp, Vine, and Instagram are effectively “mobile only”, not mobile first, which is what Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Twitter have become. Not only is mobile set as a default to being more important, in some networks it is the only way to play, a chiefly important distinction considering that largest and fastest growing networks have moved in that direction.

Evolution of Influence

Discussed in significantly more detail here, the concept of influence is a very old one; effectively all advertising is influence. It is designed to play on different psychological triggers with the purpose of getting you take a certain action (purchasing a product being the primary use). Starting out as word of mouth, and moving through all forms of mediums, from print to radio to television to online forms of adverting to where we are now, which is an interesting crossroads since word of mouth has essentially begat digital word of typing fingers and snapped videos/photos.

Why Influence

The question becomes: why is influencer marketing now such a hot topic? There are a multitude reasons, but the simplified explanation is as follows:

      Ad blocking wars continue to heat up, of which influencers are currently immune to, providing a destination for ad dollars.
      The quality of customers acquired from influencer marketing is skewing better than traditional acquisition channels.

Quality of influencer graph
Quality of influencer graph

Smart brands recognize not only that authentic advertising can exist, but it can convert better, which helps to explain this trend:

Social media spending graph
Social media spending graph

Social media spend is poised to double over the next few years, which helps to explain why brands are flocking to it, and thus giving more power to influencers.

How much power? Check out this 60 minutes segment on influencer marketing – a lot of power.

So…Mobile Influencers, huh?

Yes. Mobile influencers. From the 60 Minutes piece and the trends referenced above, we can see that the majority of ad spend over social is skewing towards those that are created primarily using their phones. Ad hoc videos for Vine and YouTube at $200,000 a piece; Kim Kardashian’s Instagram of her life worth millions… The money is beginning to flow more towards these platforms than sponsored review blog posts, as the latter were more dominate 5 short years ago (though sponsored reviews are certainly not dying, and can also be created entirely using a smartphone). Should the trends continue we will likely see a future by 2019 where 80%+ of all influencer ad activity is created via smartphones, which will become and easier decision as phone choices continue to improve.

Learn Python On A Smartphone

You can learn to code Python on an iPhone or Android relatively easily. There are lots of classes and tutorials on where to start, but all you really need is a Smartphone and a good search engine to get started. I like to tell people that there is no singular more important/useful thing that you can learn other than to speak and read/write. You’ll never look back on your life and say, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t learned this incredibly useful skill.” It may seem crazy that you can learn Python on an iPhone, but it’s actually really simple, and anyone can do it.

  • Start with the right peripherals. Specifically invest in an Apple TV or Chromecast and a Bluetooth keyboard. You’re going to thank me later when your thumbs aren’t falling off.
  • Next, download something like Python 2.7 for iOS ($1.99). It’s not quite as full featured as the full blown thing, but it’s a great place to get your feet wet as you’re learning, and doesn’t require Internet access, which is great when you’re on an airplane our out in nature and still want to be learning/practicing.
  • If you want an eBook that you can read on the road without lugging a heavy book along with you you can try Introduction to Python Programming ($9.99 on Kindle). There is a free Kindle app for the iPhone too, which is even better.
  • Once you feel a little more comfortable programming you can shift to getting yourself a FREE Amazon EC2 instance. Yes, Amazon has a free tier to get you started. They want you to like and use their products and what better way to entice you than to give it to you for free, right? You’ll want an Ubuntu install for this, because it works really well with Python.
  • Next you’ll download and install the Coda App ($24.99) or an equivalent SSH client. This will allow you to connect to your EC2 computer in the cloud. Just copy the private key and use that with the username provided, which will be “ubuntu” and you should be off to the races. I recommend you also run the command “screen” upon login so that if you get disconnected you can just type “screen -r” and recover the session without losing anything. This is a key bullet because it will allow you to build a website too if you want.
  • Then you can use your favorite terminal editor. I prefer vi, which has a steep learning curve but is very lightweight and powerful. Here’s a great tutorial on vi. If that’s too complicated pico is a nice option.

If you’ve ever wanted to pick up a new skill, this is a very inexpensive way to do it. I always recommend starting with something simple that you need to be done repetitively. A simple program that alerts you when something happens, or something that allows you to write something down in a format that’s easy to retrieve are both good examples of things you might need to be done on a regular basis. Start simple and start with something you need and it’ll be a lot more practical.

This is one of the many ways in which smartphones are helping to democratize business. Even someone with just a smartphone can start a business, learn to program, or generally produce great content. I hope this has been helpful! Good luck!

Writing Code on a Phone

Learning to program on a phone is actually easier than you might think. You just need the correct peripherals and the right software to help you accomplish the goal. One such software apps is the Coda by Panic, Inc.. It has all of the benefits of a normal SSH client but also helps create SSH keys, and gives you easy access to multiple sites. Combined with screen on the remote host and you can easily pump out code on a phone.

You can learn Python, or Java or Ruby or whatever you fancy. Coda also has a nice feature where you can preview your code before you bother uploading it. Combined with the Transmit application you can easily sync between your phone and the remote server. You can use the remote machine as a file store, or a backup, or as a test server, etc. All you need is a couple of apps and the determination to learn how to develop on a command line and you’ve got everything you need!

I’m always amazed when people don’t take advantage of things like free EC2 accounts (as an example). But if you are just learning how to program, and want to get started, you don’t need anything more than a free EC2 account and an app like Coda to get started. A quick note on EC2 though – EC2 is free to use as long as you don’t use it a lot (lots of CPU usage, or disc usage, or bandwidth, etc), so if you’re going to start doing something significant, you’ll want to think about your options a bit more.

Like always, I think that trying to program or do any meaningful tasks without a full keyboard is slow and tedious, so make sure you have a Bluetooth keyboard. But just today, I wrote several small programs, compiled Java, set up some aliases, copied code around and many other administrative tasks all from my phone. It’s always going to be easier to do it on your desktop, but we’re getting closer and closer to a world where you won’t miss your laptop one bit!

Identify Radio Signals On The Road

When you’re traveling it can often be difficult to know exactly whether it’s your fault you have no signal or if there is simply no cell towers or Wifis within range. There’s a very cool little app called Architecture of Radio that can help.

You can’t see in the picture, but as you turn you can see the various radio towers, their relative signal strength, approximate distance, who owns them and various other facts. You can even see the geo-stationary satellites in orbit.

There are some places I go that have very poor signals, and it was easy to see which carriers were close by and which ones would have a better signal strength, simply by turning around. It’s a fun party trick, but also very useful for knowing where you need to head to get a stronger signal.

Fastest Path Through Airport Security

Last week I traveled to Munich on an annual pilgrimage to Oktoberfest. It’s for work, I promise, though I do manage to have a good time, don’t worry. But being that it’s international travel, I’m always wary of going through security with stuff of any kind. I try to limit what I bring to only what I can carry in my backpack for ease of navigating airports and increase physical security since there is less to be lost or stolen. But this time in particular was the fastest I’ve ever gone through security by leaps and bounds.

On the outbound flight from Austin, I had both Clear and Precheck. When I went up to the Clear agent, he walked me to the front of the line and I was able to bypass both the regular line which looked to be about 45 minutes long, and also the Precheck line too which was probably 5 minutes of time savings. I had a boarding pass in the United app on my phone so I cruised through with a single swipe of my phone. The other nice things about the United app are that it carries your Mileage Plus and United Club cards, your boarding card(s), flight status, you can book a flight and it gives you access to inflight entertainment – that’s a lot less you’ll have to carry. When I reached for things to remove from my bag, I realized I didn’t have to. Precheck allows you to keep your shoes on, your electronics in your bag etc. All you need to do is remove metal from your pockets. So I put my phone and my wallet in a tiny cup, walked through the metal detector and was through security from start to finish in under a minute, including my interaction with Clear. I hadn’t gone through security that fast since prior to 9/11. Being mobile only with this setup saved me around 45 minutes at least.

On the way back I went through the process of signing up for the Mobile Passport which is an app that the TSA uses to speed up passport control. It asks you the normal questions you have to ask when entering the country but in many ways it’s actually easier to read and enter since you only have to enter your passport information once – the very first time you use it. I was a bit wary of using it, given that it didn’t seem like it would actually speed anything up. Wow, was I wrong. Going through Newark I was able to bypass a line that was easily an hour long and walk up to a far shorter line. Once there, I simply had to swipe the phone, and zero questions were asked. I was through in less than 5 minutes in the passport control section. Then there was a secondary line where you drop the forms off. There was no going through that line quickly, but once there, I swiped the same app again on my phone and cruised right through. Then the last part is going through security once more. Once again I was able to quickly go through security because of the mobile boarding pass and carrying next to nothing. All in all, using my phone saved me at least an hour.

As far as I can tell this is probably the fastest you can get through airport security, with the possible exception of global entry, which I haven’t yet broken down to do, yet. If you’re a weary business traveler, this may be something you want to look into. Of course they’re not exactly privacy friendly options, but security never really is.

Windows Surface Phone

Microsoft is now coming out with a Windows Surface Phone. I personally have mixed feelings about this. Microsoft has certainly got the money and interest in doing this and with Continuum, Microsoft is far and away the furthest in combining the power of the desktop into the form factor of a phone. But there are problems:

  • First, the Microsoft Surface Phone operating system is still Windows. Some people might balk at that just by itself, but I think the Windows Mobile OS is very easy to use. However, from a privacy perspective and with the latest backdoors that have been identified and opened up for anyone who wants access, this is definitely not a good investment if you worry about your security. Maybe Microsoft will come around on this issue, but for now I can’t in good conscious recommend any Windows OS in any form factor until they remove the backdoors.
  • Secondly, the app ecosystem is definitely not as good for the Windows Surface Phone if things stay as they are today. Not even close. I talked with one ex-Microsoft employee who said the strategy will be to integrate as closely as possible with the Android market place so that they can leverage Android apps. That’s smart, and by having Ubuntu under the hood and built into the OS that makes Android integration a lot easier, I’d imagine. But without a strong app ecosystem, I can’t see Microsoft doing well. This will have to be announced along side the Windows Surface Phone or I doubt their sales will be much better than any previous attempts at Windows Mobile devices.

It’s cool, it’s got a lot of promise, but with the backdoors and lack of apps, it’s not something I’d recommend for other Smartphone Execs out there. I bet a lot of this will change for the better, but there’s work to be done. It’s a shame though, because Microsoft does have so many advantages with it’s seamless environment switching due to Continuum. But they won’t be the last to pull that thread, I have no doubt!

Privacy Screens

Traveling really is awful for all kinds of reasons. But from a work perspective it’s even worse. Not only is it hard to do work on airplane because it’s cramped, you also have to worry about people looking over your shoulder.

Privacy screens are polarized film that go over your screen and act as both a protector against scratches but also make it hard to see what you’re looking at from an angle.


In these pictures you can see the image completely, but from the side it’s very difficult to tell what I’m looking at. If I were to dim the screen it would be almost impossible to tell I’m even looking at a lit phone except for the ambient light around the edges.

Privacy Anti-Spy Screen Protectors are a very cheap piece of mind when you have to write something sensitive before you forget it.

Now be warned, it doesn’t work in the vertical dimension, only the horizontal, so if you turn the phone into landscape mode it will still be visible. But as long as you know that and keep your phone in portrait mode, it becomes a lot harder for people to see what you’re doing unless they’re right behind you.

iPhone 7 Headphones

The new Apple headphone jack, or lack thereof is perhaps the most talked about gaffe of the cellphone area after maybe antenna gate or bend-gate. But for business travelers it is more than an inconvenience.

If for some reason you really did believe that Apple’s new headphone tech was the wave of the future I have several issues that still need to be discussed.

  • Bluetooth still isn’t perfectly safe. It broadcasts your MAC address and can be used by attackers to figure out who you are as you travel. It’s the main reason I disable it when I’m in airports or out on the town. It’s okay in a conference room or at home where everyone there already presumably knows you. But beyond that, it’s really not a great idea to keep turned on, and that is assuming there are no vulnerabilities left in it beyond that, which I would never assume. More attack surface is bad. Weary travelers have enough to worry about.
  • It’s not noise cancelling. For those of us who have to do international travel, the lack of noise canceling capabilities is not just a slight inconvenience, it’s the difference between getting a decent nap and hearing the annoying conversation behind you about conspiracy theories by two misinformed luddites for 8 hours straight.
  • The battery life on the headphones are 5 hours. That’s not even long enough to make it through one international flight and definitely not one with a layover. Please don’t talk to me about charging my equipment on layovers either, most of the time I’m running through airports – the very last thing I have time to do is sit and have a latte while my headohones recharge. And you can’t charge it while you use it, so you’re stuck pulling it out of your ears, charging it up for 15 minutes so you get another three hours. If you manage to make it through the entire flight only charging it once, it’s because you charged it immediately before the flight. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do than manage my headphone battery while I’m traveling through foreign lands.
  • I understand there is a dongle adapter for the phone but that is yet one more thing to manage, and it fully takes up the same port that I need to charge the phone. Of the two my phone’s battery will always trump the headphones, so yet another reason I’ll be without headphones – while I charge my phone. There is apparently some dock that can be purchased that will allow for charging and listening at the same time, but that is yet one more thing to juggle and lose. Further increasing complexity and making it harder on business travelers.
  • If you want to do a presentation with the HDMI cable from your phone, you cannot have sound at the same time without aforementioned dock and HDMI adapter combo. That’s a lot of pieces to go wrong, get broken, get lost, or otherwise not work with any sort of protective case. This could be fixed by a bigger/more complex dongle, or an external Bluetooth to RCA jack device, but that has not been introduced yet.

I don’t care about the cost personally, or the ever present Apple obsession to reduce cluttered on the device, or the issues with Apple’s desire for DRM. But I do care about reduced convenience and worse travel conditions. This was a big miss, and until they fix it, I do not recommend switching away from the 6 series of iPhones. It’s not courageous – it’s poor user design.

Ring Stents

I was recently turned onto the idea of using a ring-stent as a quick solution to the problem of reducing hand-fatigue and making it easier to work while I’m on the road without having a case that has a popup to hold it up.

The ring-stent is a 360 degree mobile ring that has enough tension to stay put in whatever position you leave it in. I’ve found it useful when I’m on the road or when I need to do longer projects and holding the phone just isn’t cutting it anymore.

The sticker is strong enough to hold up the phone as long as you aren’t pulling on it or adding extra weight. It’s also easy enough to pull off and re-position if need be without leaving any residue of any kind. I’m told that you can re-stick it dozens of times.

Ring stents being used
In the picture above you can see there are different versions – like the Rok Mobile branded one on the left or the Amazon off-brand Cell Phone Stent which comes with a holder.

It’s also great for flights where you can prop your phone up on a tray and watch a movie without having to jerry-rig something. Very clever design.