Activist iPhone Security Guide

| 4 min

When you attend a protest, particularly one which which might garner the attention of the authorities, it’s a good practice to limit the amount of data being sent out by your phone as much as possible.

Three protesters hold their phones up above a crowd.

Three protesters hold their phones up above a crowd.

To start, here are things you should have set up in your phone at all times (last updated for iOS 12):

  1. Limit ad tracking: open the Settings app; Privacy; scroll down to the bottom of the Privacy settings; Advertising; toggle ON Limit Ad Tracking (you can also hit Reset Advertising Identifier every once in a while)
  2. Block analytics tracking: Settings app; Privacy; scroll down to the bottom of the Privacy settings; Analytics & Improvements; toggle OFF Share iPhone Analytics,Improve Sire & Dictation, and Share iCloud Analytics
  3. Block location-based analytics: Settings app; Privacy; Location Services; System Services; toggle OFF iPhone Analytics, Popular Near Me, and Routing & Traffic (also feel free to toggle OFF as many of the things in this list and the Location Services app list as you feel comfortable with)
  4. Change your iPhone name: Settings app; General; About; Name; change to something that provides no identifying information (including names, iPhone model, phone number, etc.)
  5. Use a strong passcode: Settings app; Touch ID & Passcode; Change Passcode (I recommend using a strong passphrase as your passcode to ensure that it is memorable but resistant to brute force attacks. You passcode should be alphanumeric at least 10 digits long)
  6. Turn off Siri: Settings app; Siri & Search; toggle OFF all options
  7. Turn off dictation: Settings app; General; Keyboards; toggle OFF Enable Dictation
  8. Turn off background app refresh for most apps: Settings app; General; Background App Refresh; toggle OFF all apps that are not secure/necessary
  9. Turn off Game Center’s location access: Settings app; Game Center; toggle OFF Game Center, or at least toggle OFF Nearby Players
  10. Audit your apps’ access: Settings app; Privacy; check through this list and ensure that apps have no more access to your data than they need
  11. Harden the default Safari browser: Settings app; Safari; set Search Engine to DuckDuckGo, toggle OFF Search Engine Suggestions, Safari Suggestions, Preload Top Hit, and Frequently Visited Sites; toggle ON Block Pop-ups, Prevent Cross-Site Tracking, Block All Cookies, and Fraudulent Website Warning; toggle OFF Camera & Microphone Access and Check for Apple Pay; select Advanced; toggle OFF Javascript
  12. Limit your message storage to 30 days: Settings app; Messages; select Keep Messages and choose 30 Days

You should also keep your phone updated at all times (check in the Settings app; General; Software Update)

Before you head out to a protest, do the following:

  1. Back up your phone: Settings app; your name at the top; iCloud; iCloud Backup; toggle it ON if not on already; select Back Up Now
  2. Turn on Low Power Mode: Settings app; Battery; toggle ON Low Power Mode
  3. Turn off Touch ID and access to phone functions while locked: Settings app; Touch ID & Passcode; type passcode; toggle iPhone Unlock to OFF (you can be coerced into putting your thumb on your phone); set Require Passcode to Immediately; toggle Voice Dial OFF; toggle all options under Allow access while locked to OFF; at the bottom, toggle ON wiping your phone after 10 failed attempts
  4. Set a quicker auto-lock: Settings app; Display & Brightness; Auto-Lock; 30 seconds
  5. Turn off methods for connecting to your device: open the Settings app; General; set Airdrop to Receiving off; set Handoff to OFF
  6. Turn off Wi-Fi: Settings app; Wi-Fi; toggle OFF
  7. Turn off your GPS: Settings app; Privacy; Location Services; toggle OFF at the top - if you cannot to this, then at least turn it off for most apps and toggle OFF Share My Location
  8. Turn off fitness tracking: Settings app; Privacy; Motion & Fitness; toggle OFF Fitness Tracking
  9. Turn off Bluetooth: Settings app; Bluetooth; set to OFF (unless you need it for what you are doing)
  10. Turn off notification previews: Settings app; Notifications; Show Previews; select Never; then go through each app in the list and toggle OFF Show on Lock Screen
  11. Turn off automatic (non-encrypted) SMS messages: Settings app; Messages; toggle Send as SMS OFF (note: this doesn’t completely turn off SMS, so you’ll still need to use Signal)

Keep in mind that turning off your phone is an option, as is turning it to airplane mode, or even leaving it at home - but communication is key when you are out on the streets, so I don’t recommend it.

While you are out and about, use Signal for your communications and Firefox Focus or Brave for browsing. I recommend using ProtonVPN on a regular basis. Another good idea is to download maps onto your phone ahead of time so that you don’t need to use location services on your GPS/maps app.

When livestreaming, avoid showing fellow protesters’ faces, particularly if they are doing something that would garner the authorities’ attention. If you post videos or photos afterward, make sure to blur out faces and potentially identifying details of fellow activists.

Missing something? Let me know. I’ll be following up soon with an article on digital security more generally.

Three painted rectangles denoting the end of a path.