The Merkle

What Is Haven?

As the Internet gets older and its users get wiser (hopefully), there is a growing desire to strengthen personal information security. Not only is there a concern that malicious actors, black-hat hackers, and criminals may have unimpeded access to personal data, but citizens of the world over are beginning to distrust their governments’ intentions. Edward Snowden, the infamous NSA contractor and defector – living in Russia of all places, not known for its devotion to digital or human rights – has developed an app called Haven to alert users to clandestine activities.

What is Haven?

Haven is an app developed by Edward Snowden that monitors one’s device for signs of tampering. While software tampering and remote tampering are still threats, we tend to forget about physical tampering with a phone, which can be incredibly effective.

Haven can be installed on Android devices (there’s currently no iOS support, but the project’s team suggests buying a cheap Android smartphone to benefit from the app), and utilizes the phone’s own hardware and sensors to track and monitor unwanted, unexpected, and uninvited guests. Haven uses light sensors, accelerometers, cameras, power, microphone, and the phone itself to detect and track disturbances.

It also utilizes Tor for remote access to the device and Signal to alert the user of disturbances for added data security.

Who would benefit from using it?

It is a sad world, but human rights activists, investigative journalists, and others are often at risk of forced disappearances. This app can directly help them by i) offering insight into who is either in their space or who frequents their space when gone (they’d know if someone were waiting for them to return) or ii) more morbidly, providing a record of their disappearance.

While I’m less convinced that Mr. Snowden needs an app like this to protect him from some sort of American, extra-judicial hit squad, I can see the value that it may have to others – particularly individuals who oppose the Kremlin.

Not just for making sure people don’t “disappear”

This project was recently announced and opened to the public. While I am sure that many people will vastly augment their personal safety and security, I also wonder how many people will use this device to spy on others. It’s pretty easy to hide a phone in order to collect data and just remote in via Tor. I wonder how many unfaithful significant others will have a rude awakening as a result, or how many relationships will end because devices are found.

In short: practical and intended use cases are often misaligned, and I bet this will end up being used to further clandestine activity just as much as to prevent it.

Still worth checking out

If you’re into code at all, I suggest you take a look at Haven’s github repo – the code is pretty nifty, and it’s cool to me that this project was open-source. At the very least, it is good that it brings information and personal security to the forefronts of our minds for a little bit, if only ephemerally.