How to Customize Signal to Be More Like Slack (and vice-versa)

We posted recently about our concerns with using Slack for team communications.

Here’s the thing: A lot of us love Slack. It is life-changing software that makes team collaboration roughly 1.3 gazillion times easier. And if you’re a geek, the API integrations are heavenly. Slack is great…for work or to organize a neighborhood barbecue.

Slack (and nearly every other piece of cloud-based software) is not so great if you have any concerns about the privacy of your users or the security of your information. Which, as we head in into authoritarian rule, is a concern.

There are more secure Slack alternatives, like Semaphor, which we are exploring. But for now we’re using Signal, which is free and easy to use.

But… Signal is not Slack. It’s much simpler, more like a group-text app, with none of Slack’s bells and whistles or API integrations. So…

To make Signal be more Slack-y, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Disable notifications. Signal is exactly like SMS text messaging, which, if you’ve ever been part of a family group text around the holidays, you know can be annoying. The minute more than six people are in a Signal group, your phone’s buzzing will get out of hand.
  2. Keep groups small. Think of them like Slack channels. Not everyone needs to be in every channel. Also, unlike on Slack, Signal has no group moderation. In other words, you can’t boot people from a group. Another reason to keep groups small and manageable.
  3. Don’t be afraid to create new groups. Just like on Slack, where there’s a Fear of Creating Channels (FoCC), you don’t need to shoehorn conversations into existing groups just because the group was set up that way. Create a new group, even if you’re only going to use it for a day or two. There is no limit to the number of groups you can create.
  4. Use 1-1 communication whenever possible. Not everyone needs to know everything. Just like Slack, Signal is great for private, one-to-one conversations. And don’t forget to set messages to disappear!

Now, because you are probably going to use Slack despite what we recommend, here are some steps to make Slack more Signal-y. 

  1. Admins can set their teams to require two-factor authentication (2FA) for everyone on the team. This is the very first step you need to do when setting up your team. If you are logging into Slack without 2FA, do not participate on that Slack team and notify your admin immediately. This is very basic, Security 101 — but it’s a step toward making Slack more Signal-y.
  2. Set messages to disappear. This feature is configurable at the channel and individual level, and its important that you do this right now. Choose whatever time period makes sense (a day? a week?) for your needs. This is not 100% secure (your messages will still be stored in the cloud somewhere, and presumably available via hacking or subpoena), but at least if someone swipes your phone they can’t search your entire message history.

We’re still exploring these issues and would love your feedback. What security concerns do you have in Trump’s America? What precautions are you taking? Let us know in the comments, or… on Signal.

Why Slack Isn’t Such a Good Idea

Disclaimer: I can’t tell you what to do. I am not dictating a policy here, nor do I have the means to enforce one. This is a discussion of basic security concepts as they apply to Indivisible teams & data and how Slack measures up. It also includes some mitigations to take if you do decide to use Slack.

Anything I say below can be applied to any/all communication technologies and methods: social media, email, signal, slack, face-to-face communication. Please keep our member & leadership data safe in the Era of Trump.

There’s been a lot of talk about using Slack as a communication tool to help keep all of our fast-growing Indivisible teams coordinated and moving forward. Although it has a very shiny interface and is fun and easy to use, it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to security. In fact, lots of companies are leaping into the space to provide secure chat.

GROAN. YES! I can hear you groaning. “Oh, its the security guy, he’s always the party pooper.” Well guess what, I’m here to give you a few tidbits on security.

Focus on Security Essentials

Let’s think about what is most important to our cause:

  • Our member and leadership data. As in, anything that can personally identify them. Think to yourself, what happens if data about your members or leaders (names, emails, phone numbers, addresses) gets leaked or is hacked?Those people get PERSONALLY affected, is what happens. Think about that for a second. How effective will your teams be if they’re all doxxed? Or if just your leaders are doxxed? Or if people get fired because their Trump-loving boss figures out what they’re doing? Or if someone in a bright Red county loses all their business customers overnight because of a data breach? When you think about risk in this way, things come into sharp focus.
  • Our plans. Think how our adversary could mess with us if they knew what we were about to do. What if you’re planning to show up to a congressperson’s office and do all that planning in an open forum, and then the Congressperson decides to avoid you? And it’s because you talked about your plans on an open channel and all your efforts come to naught.
  • Our ability to coordinate and control effectively. Think about people with bad agendas inserting themselves into conversations. Impersonating users because they stole their passwords and assumed their identities or stolen their devices. Issuing commands to go one place across town when we were supposed be some other place. Or cancelling an event when in fact we were supposed to be there. In an era where Russians have likely hacked our elections, do you think any of this is far fetched? ARE YOU THINKING LIKE A SECURITY PERSON YET?

If you can secure these three aspects of our information security, you can go a long way toward keeping our members and initiatives safe across all of our Indivisible chapters.

The above should form the foundation of how you evaluate security on any platform: texting, email, Signal, Slack, whatever. If you can keep the three aspects of our operations secure, you know you’re on the right track.

So, think this through:

  1. You want your most sensitive data (member information, leadership data, plans) in your most guarded and secret places. That would be Signal for example.
  2. You want action messages and final plans to be on public spaces: blogs, social media, emails, mass texts.
  3. At all times you want to make sure that the person(s) you’re communicating with are actually, for real, the person(s) you intend to communicate with. And not someone who is impersonating them because they stole a password or cloned their phone number.

How Does Slack Rank Security-Wise?

Now that we have some basics down, let’s talk about Slack. It’s so SHINY and PRETTY. But you should know by now that pretty things aren’t necessarily good for you. Let’s see how it stacks up to our three criteria above.

  1. The encryption used on Slack is controlled by Slack. Which means no end-to-end encryption like on Signal. Which means that Slack admins can, according to their privacy rules and their own technical stack, look at your conversations. Even if they aren’t willing to do it, they can be subpoenaed to do so. So this means we can’t keep member/leadership data safe on Slack. Nor can we keep our plans safe on it.
  2. All conversations are kept on their servers. You don’t own those conversations. Slack has the data. In a centralized place. Where hackers can get into it. Which has happened. So, once again, our data is not safe on the platform.
  3. CAN I JUST ALL-CAPS REMIND YOU ALL THIS STUFF ON SLACK CAN BE SUBPOENAED? Okay, let’s see, let me give you an example. Hulk Hogan’s trial against Gawker, paid for by Peter Thiel, WHO IS ON TRUMP’S SIDE. Part of this involved Slack chat messages. Is it safe? Is it secure? NO GANDALF IT IS NOT.

Given all three things above, I’m personally never going to use Slack. There’s no end-to-end encryption, I don’t own the data (which hangs around forever and can be looked at by their admins) and it can all be subpoenaed.

I’m out.

You’re Totally Going to Use Slack, Aren’t You?

Here’s where the real world intrudes. As much as the security guy shouts from the rooftops about something, most people will do their own thing.

It’s okay, security people are used to being ignored until something horrible happens. At which point they can say, “I told you so!” while drinking numerous beers and catching up on favorite episodes of Firefly.

I can’t stop you from using Slack. I also can’t stop you from standing up in the middle of Main Street with a megaphone and telling anyone who cares to listen what our most secret plans are.

So you’re going to use Slack. Great! Here are some things to think about if you so choose to do this thing I’m begging you not to:

  1. Remember that Slack is an open channel. NEVER fully identify a member or leader on there. First names only. NEVER divulge emails or phone numbers. NEVER EVER EVER.
  2. Only use Slack to divulge last-minute coordination efforts, never for planning and discussion. Use Signal and face-to-face meetings for planning. Use Slack, social media,  and email to alert the necessary teams of final decisions.
  3. Turn on 2-factor authentication in Slack (this option was made available because they they were hacked, but okay they took a right step).
  4. Force everyone on your team to use 2-factor authentication. This way you’ll have some assurance you’re talking to the right person. Or at least, a real person. Try googling “how to not get catfished” if you want an entertaining evening.

Okay, that’s it. Go forth and do your thing. Remember to keep yourselves and other members of Indivisible safe!

Protest Safety & Verbal Self Defense Training

If you’re gearing up for one of the marches or other actions this month, here’s a good starter guide for Protest Safety (site includes links to more advanced info and a PDF version of the Basic info for printing/sharing).

We also want to offer some training and practice for engaging with our representatives at public events. If you’re interested in a 1-2 hour session that would cover some of the following, please leave a Comment on this post:

  • Grounding and emotional self-regulation techniques for public speaking/civic conflict situations
  • How to take control of the conversation (being rude for the right reasons)
  • Coordinating group action at an event
  • Tactical nonviolence planning essentials

If you have other concerns related to safe engagement, please note those below too, and we’ll try to address them!



Using Signal to Communicate Securely

You want to contribute to defeating the Trump agenda, but you don’t know where to start. At the same time, you’re a bit nervous about doing anything in public because, well, let’s face it, Trump seems hell-bent on establishing himself as an autocrat. And we all know how autocrats respond to dissent!

So how does one securely communicate with others who wish to dissent? Certainly not by using social media, email, or texting.

The media are replete with stories about folks who thought they were having private discussions on Twitter, Facebook or other platforms that were in fact, totally public–usually because of a silly user error. Likewise, there are plenty of stories out there about folks whose private communications were subpoenaed or hacked. And we all know what happened to Hillary Clinton’s campaign once the hackers penetrated their emails.

So if you can’t use Twitter or Facebook to organize, and if regular phone calls, emails, and texting are similarly insecure, what tool can you use to securely communicate?

Use Signal!

We suggest you use Signal, a free iOS and Android application made by Whisper Systems. With it, you can securely text, group chat, share videos and documents, and call others via the platform.

Everything is done via end-to-end encryption so Whisper Systems has no visibility into what you’re doing — even if they’re subpoenaed, they have no information to give out. Even the amount of metadata they collect (who participated, when they participated, etc) is severely curtailed.

And by curtailed we mean, they know when you sign up for Signal, and the last time you used it, and that’s about it. For more information, check out this story.

Getting Started

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Download the Signal app onto your phone. (On iOS, you’ll find it in the App Store. Android users can find it on Google Play.)
  2. Once the app is on your phone, sign up by registering your mobile phone number.
  3. They’ll send you a six-digit confirmation code via SMS.
  4. Enter that confirmation code into the app and you’re signed up!
  5. The final step is giving Signal access to your contacts – you’ll need that in order to identify other Signal users.

The first time you open Signal and start a chat or call, you’ll see all the folks from your Contacts who have downloaded Signal. If you don’t have their registered Signal phone number, you won’t see them.

A great tip is to ask folks if they’re on Signal – once they download and register, you can start talking securely.

Here’s a great article on how to use Signal. It’s a great write up by the good folks at EFF.

Keeping Your Digital Self Secure in the Era of Trump

Ask any random person on the street about digital security and very few of them have given much thought to protecting their digital information. In fact, most people only know the basics: pick hard-to-guess passwords, make sure your banking information is secure, never share your passwords with other people, maybe something about antivirus protection. But these are also the same people who blithely and routinely post vacation photos for the world to see while they’re still on vacation!

In the Age of Trump, we have to be more vigilant – the term of art used by experts is “increase your security posture.” The Trump administration will have a very powerful surveillance state (federal law enforcement, NSA) at its disposal. Furthermore, many of the extremist groups that oppose our efforts will also have various capabilities. Not to mention, hackers (ranging from lone actors to state-sponsored groups) will still be active, all with their own motivations.

One thing we know for sure: our adversary is playing for keeps. Having watched the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election (particularly the havoc wreaked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign by hackers) and such public imbroglios like Gamergate we know that they will stoop to any methods to achieve their goals.

Fortunately, just a handful of measures will exponentially increase your digital/information security – thus keeping yourself, your activities and private life, and other members of any groups you’re a part of safe and secure.

Before reading the list below, let’s get a few things out of the way:

  1. Becoming 100% secure is not remotely achievable. Even the most dedicated and vigilant folks will experience some kind of security issue – be it falling for phishing email or accidentally executing malware. Think instead about reducing your exposure to risk.

    What you can do is become such a hard target that malicious actors (be they hackers or members of the surveillance state) just move along.

  2. There are no silver bullets in security – no single remedy, task, or activity (including the ones listed below) can make you secure. Instead, you need to put in place a series of security measures. Experts call this “defense-in-depth.” Think about how castles are structured: they have moats, drawbridges, walls, and inner keeps to keep invaders out. They also have archers on the walls, patrols inside the walls, and locked doors in sensitive areas.

    Castles don’t rely on just one measure to stay secure – and neither should you.
  3. There may be some situations that call for common sense no matter how secure you’re living your life. For example, just because you’ve encrypted sensitive files with the most powerful tools available doesn’t mean you should tell everyone where you’ve stored the file – that basically amounts to a massive dare. Similarly, if you want to keep your activities within a resistance group secret, hinting to a stranger at a bar that you’re part of a group will work against your goal!

    A little common sense goes a long way in terms of security.

Okay, let’s just get to the list.

1) Create strong passwords and keep them secure. Passwords are the first line of defense and are prime targets of most efforts to get at your information. First step: stop trying to use all those tricks and remedies you’ve picked up along the way to manage passwords in your head. You know what I’m talking about: names of pets combined with favorite Beatles lyrics and then a “123” at the end.

No matter how good you are at this game, you have too many accounts (Facebook! Online banking! Retail stores! Netflix! Amazon!) and you’ll eventually start falling back on all the bad habits that will get you into trouble, i.e., creating weak passwords, recycling/reusing passwords between sites, or using special prefixes or suffixes on formulaic passwords to distinguish them (like “fb” at start of a password for Facebook, “gm” for Gmail and so on).

Instead, you need to install a password manager like 1Password or LastPass. These tools allow you to create an encrypted vault protected by one very strong password (the last one you’ll need to remember) which contains usernames and passwords you use all the time. These tools can also generate strong passwords for you, and allow syncing across all your devices so you always have them on hand.

2) Make sure all devices and computers require login. I know it’s a pain in the neck, but this one step can keep a lot of your information safe. And don’t settle for numeric PIN on iPhone (for example) – use the alphanumeric option to create really strong PINs that will take forever to guess. While you’re at it, make sure your devices wipe memory and data after so many failed attempts.

3) Encrypt your filesystems. Use Bitlocker on Windows and FIleVault on Mac. Store the restore key in your password manager. That way, if anyone steals your device (or subpoenas it) and can’t get past your login screen, pulling your hard drive and accessing it directly will only yield further frustration.

4) Keep your devices patched/updated. If you’re on an end-of-life operating system, upgrade! Most hackers don’t use extraordinary measures to break into systems, they use well-known (and public) exploits against out-of-date software. Simple hygiene in this regard can keep a lot of trouble from your doorstep. This attack vector combined with phishing emails and other social engineering attacks (see below) make up a huge percentage of the threat!

5) Keep your antivirus software up to date. Don’t fall for the old “Macs don’t get malware” bit either. Malware comes in various packages: some install keyloggers that capture your usernames/passwords, other destroy or corrupt files/data, others steal it (exfiltration is the term of art), others enslave your computer to do the bidding of another computer (usually involving it in criminal tasks) and still others encrypt data and then demand payment to unlock (ransomware!).

6) Back up, back up, back up! That way if you do get malware/ransomware that corrupts your filesystem or steals your data, you can get it back. iCloud works here, as do other services like Dropbox (beware though, you should encrypt your backups!).

7) Turn on two-step verification (2SV) or two-factor authentication (2FA) wherever possible. 2SV usually involves getting a code via text message or other device whenever you login to a service. 2FA involves having not only a password (something you know) but some other factor to complete the authentication process (fingerprint – something you are; token USB card – something you have). There are few commercial services that provide 2FA but 2SV is becoming more available.

Please note: 2SV is not a fail-safe system! Skilled hackers can easily clone your mobile phone number (if they know it) to get those codes texted to them as well. (Do I sound like a paranoid crank yet? Don’t worry, it’s only paranoia if they’re really out to get you…just ask the Hillary Clinton campaign).

8) Go private on social media accounts. If you can, lock them so they’re visible only to friends/followers. Turn off all location services so that photos, tweets, and updates contain no metadata that might fix your location. Furthermore, set privacy levels such that users can’t find you via your phone number and/or email address.

9) Watch what you share and say in public, and that includes social media. Remember those old posters from World War II days: Loose lips sink ships. Even if all your social media accounts are private, posting photos of your participation in a counter-protest may feel good and get you many likes, but it can lead to a number of consequences.

For starters, you’ll garner attention from people who won’t like you. You may think to yourself, “I don’t care” but posting this photo might reveal the identity of another group member who might lose their job or suffer other consequences. We live in an age where our adversaries feel no remorse using such tactics as doxxing (posting work/home phone/address and other personally identifying information on the internet) and swatting (calling the police to say there is an armed gunman at your home address to elicit a SWAT response).

So posting that photo and getting a thousand likes might feel good, but the fallout might ultimately make you less effective to the group (ie, it’s hard to resist Trump when you’ve lost your job or you’re worried about crazy people posting death threats along with your home address on the Web).

10) Learn how to identify and defeat phishing emails. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was the target of widespread phishing (and spear-phishing) attacks. These emails purport to be from a legitimate service making a routine request – in this case, “we noticed that someone was trying to hack your account, please change your password.” Anyone who clicks the link is of course taken to a hacker’s website that gathers the user’s account username and old password (and of course never updates with a new password!).

All of us remember and laugh at the Nigerian prince emails that make the rounds. Think about this: they’re so prevalent because they work! It only takes a vanishingly small percentage of people to respond to make those efforts lucrative for criminals.

Be advised that most of the phishing emails you’ll see are extremely good! They’ll look exactly like the emails you might get from your bank, a social media app, or favorite retailer.

How to spot a phishing email?  Some dead giveaways:

  • Spelling/grammar errors in the subject line or message
  • You’re not addressed by name (more like “Dear Customer”)
  • The URL the link goes to isn’t quite right (i.e. it might go to instead of
  • Oh yeah – the fact that most services won’t ask you via email to update your password!

Pro tip: If you’ve installed a password manager and turned on their monitoring services, you’ll find out if/when a system you use has been hacked or breached!

So what do you if you get one of these phishing emails? Stop what you’re doing, open a web browser and go directly to the site in question to login. In other words, don’t click the link to go your bank, enter the URL you know and love directly into your browser. Simple as that. If there really is a problem, your bank/retailer/service will probably display a warning and/or ask you to reset your password right then and there.

Oh one more thing – pop up ads that say things like “we’ve detected malware on your system, please click here to clean it up” are super bad. Do not click. Just close the windows!

11) Certain sites (cough, cough – pornography) can be potential watering holes. A watering hole is any site that attracts traffic and which infects visitors with malware. Hackers love to seed high-traffic sites with malware to infect as many visitors as they can. The best remedy here is to not visit those sites, of course, but you’ll want to keep your antivirus up to date!

12) Learn how to identify and defeat social engineering. Social engineering is related to phishing, but it’s usually done over the phone (and rarely) in person. It’s basically tricking you into revealing something important or otherwise behaving in a way that isn’t in your best interests.

An example is someone calling you from the IRS or “Loan Office” to tell you you owe them money. During the high-pressure call, they’ll want to know your social security number, date of birth, and other information that could be used to defeat password reset systems at your bank (and they’ll know you bank at such-and-such a place because you took a selfie there to celebrate getting your home loan and then told all your Facebook friends about it).

Other social engineering scenarios might actually try to convince you to reset or share your password right there on the phone. A good way to resist this scenario is to take the person’s name and then call the main number to your bank (or whatever) and then get transferred back to that person.

In-person social engineering is more common in commercial environments and usually involve getting physical access through a badge-control area (guy walks up in a UPS uniform holding a heavy box and helpful employees opens the door) but these situations have been known to happen in everyday life.

Some examples:

  • Be suspicious of any person who shows up at your house, without an appointment, who wants to perform a service you have not ordered or requested. If they are a city employee, call the city to confirm they are who they say they are.
  • Similarly, people purporting to be door-to-door salesmen, proselytizing ministers, or the like *could be* just that, or they could be gathering intel on who is home at what times.
  • When traveling, you might encounter individuals who approach you in social settings and engage you in conversation over drinks (for example). A good rule of thumb for everyone (but men especially) – if painfully attractive people don’t normally hit you up in your home town, it’s probably not going to happen while you’re on the road. Be suspicious.

Are you likely to be targeted out of the blue? No, not likely. Are you likely to become targeted if you become very active in a resistance movement? Could happen! So keep a low profile if you want to reduce your exposure to this risk.

Why spend so much time on social media hygiene, phishing, and social engineering? Because if you create strong passwords, keep files encrypted, patch and upgrade, and keep antivirus up to date you’re still vulnerable to low-tech attempts at getting through your defenses.

The weakest link in any security situation is almost always the distracted or fooled human who clicks a phishing link or divulges information to a seemingly innocuous stranger.

Make yourself less vulnerable!