The government hacked my phone; learn from my experience, guard your technology

By Abigail Fergus


The same day that WikiLeaks released information on the CIA’s broad hacking abilities and resulting vulnerabilities in our technology, I sent a text to my boyfriend. “What are things you learned at Standing Rock? What did you see that showed you people were willing to die for the cause?”

I went to open his response and my phone shut off as I tapped my screen. This was not normal for the device. I turned the phone back on, and it took longer than usual to reactivate. I was chilled. I thought of WikiLeaks and the surveillance of the Standing Rock camps.

Aside from constant army and law official presence on the surrounding hills, we were warned to look out for odd activity in our phones at the Oceti Sakowin camp during our stay last November. While there was no service in the remote North Dakota plain and I turned my phone off at camp, I hadn’t done so ahead of time.

Perhaps my phone contained information on my travel route and destination and I was already being tracked. After all, whether or not a phone is connected to data, WiFi or contains a GPS, there are mechanisms like to track where a missing device is. Additionally, my boyfriend’s dinosaur of a flip phone is acting odd. It turns itself on and off frequently and activates the voice recorder when he’s making phone calls.

Whether or not you or I believe that my phone’s odd activity is because I am being tracked by the government for my involvement with the NoDAPL movement, hacking has been shown to be a dangerous reality. Well-known examples include Edward Snowden’s exposure of the NSA for global surveillance and the CIA’s confirmation that Russia was involved with hacking and leaking of DNC emails during the election season.

Regardless of whether government bodies are a threat to “typical” citizens, there are simple ways to boost your cybersecurity to protect from malware and political hackers alike.

Sticky Notes

When not in use, cover the cameras on your phone and computer with a sticky note. FBI, high school administrators and perverts have all been reported by reputable sources such as Slate Magazine to have accessed and utilized cameras remotely. This precaution has been assimilated to shutting blinds in your room for privacy by one technology security writer.

Factory Reset

If you believe your phone has been hacked, do a factory reset to try and get rid of the invader. You will lose your data and saved settings, so consider having your contacts, music and photos backed up somewhere. While you setup your phone this time around, pay more attention to privacy settings and what your phone company and services like Google are asking you to agree to.

Encrypted Texts

This one sounds fancy and confusing; it’s not so hard though. Out of my phone incident induced anxiety, I simply downloaded the messaging app “Signal”. I set it as my default messenger and imported my contacts with ease. This protects messages from being easily intercepted and read unless a hacker is within your phone (see factory reset tip).

Beware of Border Control

Unwarranted search and seizure may be outlawed in the U.S., but just as this rule doesn’t apply in airports, its protection doesn’t reach border control. Officers are allowed to take your phone and search through it. If you refuse to give them your password, they’ll detain your device and figure it out. On top of it all, cases in which this has happened seem to exemplify racial profiling of Middle Eastern, South American and Central American people.

Pay Up

If you can afford it, look into buying a VPN and alternative options for storage (not Google or Dropbox). This may not be college budget friendly, so just be careful about what you use the web for, what you post on social media and what you store on devices that are connected to the internet.

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