Edward Snowden Created an App to Catch Hackers

Edward Snowden speaks via video conference to people in the Johns Hopkins University auditorium February 2016.

Edward Snowden speaks via video conference to people in the Johns Hopkins University auditorium February 2016. Juliet Linderman/AP

The app taps the sensors of your smartphone.

Rather than fill your home with cameras, or motion sensors, or trip wires or booby traps, Edward Snowden has a new way to figure out if your home or laptop has been violated. All it takes is an extra Android phone.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation, which counts the NSA whistleblower as a board member and the Guardian Project jointly developed Haven, an app that takes advantage of the sensor-dense pocket computers we have come to call phones.

The app turns the phone into a multifaceted tripwire. The phone hears a noise on a microphone—trip. The phone senses movement on its accelerometer—trip. The phone senses a change in room brightness with its light sensor—trip. The phone senses something moving in a room with its camera—trip. The phone gets unplugged or stops charging—trip.

Once tripped, the app sends encrypted text notifications, sounds, and images to the owner of the device.

The premise is that just placing this phone on or near a sensitive device like laptop will warn the owner in real time if someone tries to tamper with it. Security researcher Joanna Rutkowska dubbed this the “evil maid” problem.

Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Intercept that Haven might also be useful “for teenagers who are concerned about their parents, or who are concerned about nosy partners, or friends. Or if you’re in college and you’re worried about your roommate.

But she warned that it might also create a lot of false positives: “Maybe the maid isn’t evil. Sometimes the maid is just a maid.”

Even if you’re worried about government-sponsored hackers breaking into your laptop, it could still be useful. Guardian Project founder Nate Freitas called Haven “the most powerful, secure and private baby monitor system ever.”

Here’s Snowden’s video announcing the app.