Millions of us use our tablets and smartphones to send email and browse the Web on a daily basis, and most of us don’t give it a second thought. But we may want to keep our communications private, for a variety of reasons — whether we rely on our iPad to make million dollar business deals, handle confidential data, or just don’t want the love notes you send to your spouse to be read by anyone else. Whatever the reason, these apps and techniques can help to protect you when you’re online.
Before we get to the apps, however, we need to start with something a little more basic: cryptography. At its root, cryptography involves both the encryption of a message before it’s sent and later decryption by the intended recipient. A simple example is the coded messages sent during WWII — the recipient had to know how to decode the message or it was worthless gibberish.
Although it has become much more complicated in modern times, with extremely complex mathematical algorithms and advanced computer science, the principles are the same: Don’t let anyone else read what you’re sending by email or looking at online. You don’t have to be “up to no good” to want your communications to be private, and these apps and services can help you keep it that way.
It’s not just deep-cover operatives who want to keep their email secret. Anyone who is concerned about having their identity stolen should consider it too. Here are a couple of applications that can do the job, as well as instructions for making your iPad’s Email app much more secure.
If you want to use email encrypted with either public or private PGP keys, then iPGMail is one of the two best options. It isn’t the prettiest apps, but it works, and has some handy features that make it more convenient to use. PGP keys can be imported in several ways, such as by email, Dropbox, iTunes File Sharing, or AirDrop from your Mac.
The app can also generate RSA keys internally, and can store them in the iOS Keychain if desired, and you can also attach your public key to your messages as well. Just be aware, users have reported that the latest version deletes their keys, so the developer has recommended backing up keys before upgrading to the latest version until a solution is published.
oPenGP is more fully featured than iPGMail in that it has more robust file attachment support, including both automatic archive extraction for .rar, .tar, and .zip as well as the ability to preview decrypted file attachments before sending them to other apps on the device. A secure “My Files” storage locker is also included in oPenGP.
The one feature it doesn’t include is the ability to generate PGP keys within the app, as is possible with iPGMail — though this is on the development roadmap. At present, keys must be generated on a computer and then transferred via Dropbox, iTunes File Sharing, or the device clipboard.
Securing your email doesn’t even require an app if you use the S/MIME support built into the standard iOS Mail app. The first thing you need to do is get a certificate (Comodo and StartSSL are free for individual use) and install it on your device by sending it to yourself as an email attachment and tapping on it once you receive it.
After you type in the password specified by the certificate provider, you can set up your options in Mail to automatically sign and encrypt every email message you send by default. This is a good solution for those who want more of a “set it and forget it” approach.
Let’s be honest here: would you really want everything you look at on the Web to be public knowledge? Here are some browsers that can help keep your privacy.
This secure browser has many features, all related to its use of 128-bit AES encryption and how it routes your web browsing through three different servers before reaching your online destination. This allows you to surf with both privacy and anonymity on the Tor/Onion network. You can even tell the app to use a “random” address and the Covert Browser will generate a new IP address every five minutes.
Some of the suggested uses are for spoofing your country setting (in case a particular site is location-specific), getting around Internet filters at work (don’t blame us if you’re caught!), and also accessing sites normally blocked by your ISP.
Free Full Screen Private Browsing Web Browser for iPhone & iPad
While this app certainly won’t win any awards for its rather convoluted name, we can say that it truly works. The UI is similar to Safari, but with a minimal look and hidden controls that make for a truly full screen experience.
Your browsing history is automatically deleted after each session, and the app doesn’t store cookies either. Unlike some of the other safe browsing apps reviewed here, this app is very fast indeed. It sometimes shuts down in order to showcase other apps (the price you “pay” for not having any ads on the main screen) but in all other respects it works well and is highly recommended.
Mobicip doesn’t promise anonymous web browsing, but it encrypts all of your online activities, making it very useful for who uses their device with public Wi-Fi hotspots. It also has the added bonus of containing full parental controls and filtering for web browsing, search, and even YouTube video titles and descriptions, so it’s a must-have for parents.
A Mobicip account is required, with options ranging from the free Basic level to the $39.99 annual Premium plan that adds app monitoring, time limits, and browsing history reports. An Enterprise version is also available for those wishing to protect 20 or more devices on the same account.
99 cents, Universal
If you want all of your online web browsing to be anonymous, then the Onion Browser is a great option to consider. All of your browsing is done via the Tor network and your actual IP address is kept hidden so that you can’t be tracked. It also optionally blocks either all cookies or just third-party cookies, which makes it less likely that your online activities can be tracked in any way.
There are some downsides, most notably greatly reduced speed and the automatic blocking of video. The Onion Browser will also not work in some countries that prohibit its use, such as Iran and South Korea. Future updates will include upgraded features as well, with the developer planing to add tabbed browsing and support for iOS 8.
Free, with premium subscriptions ranging from $2.99 monthly to $49.99 yearly, Universal
SurfEasy routes all of your web browsing traffic through a VPN network that allows you to hide your IP address and location, encrypt traffic, and browse anonymously. You can choose from locations in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Brazil, Singapore, and others. SurfEasy also includes Wi-Fi security, which is great if you do a lot of surfing at your local coffee shop.
The free version allows you up to 500 MB of data protection each month, with the ability to earn more by following the developer on Twitter, referring friends, etc. — similar to Dropbox’s model. The paid subscription options add the ability to completely remove the monthly bandwidth restriction as well as ad tracking protection for increased online privacy.