On this episode of Wizard Gear I’ll be showing you my untraceable Stealth Survival Phone, and walking you through how to make one of your own.
While extremely useful, almost all of our smartphones serve as surveillance systems tracking our internet activity, physical locations and even the things we do and say. However, it is possible to get most of the benefits of a smartphone while also hiding our personal information from those who wish to spy on us.
If you setup your phone with enough storage space, you can also fill it with books, audio and videos on how to survive in the wilderness, and download maps of entire geographical regions for offline access.
Before we start setting our phone up with the right software we first have to choose the right hardware.
Android vs. iPhone
When it comes to the type of phone we use, normally there are really only two choices: Android or iPhone. Unfortunately, the iPhone is extremely difficult to modify from its original state, and there aren’t really any Open Source versions of the Operating System available, so Android is our only true option here.
The Android Operating system is Open Source at its core, though the version of the OS on phones bought at the store contains proprietary Google Software by default. We’ll discuss the available truly Open Source versions of the OS and how to install them later in this article.
Every phone has a unique ID associated with it called an IMEI. This ID is visible to all nearby cell towers if your radio is broadcasting, even if you don’t have a SIM Card installed. When you buy a phone from a service provider such as Verizon or T-Mobile this IMEI is associated with you, so it’s important to buy a used phone, or at least a new one from an organization that isn’t tying your name to the IMEI.
Swappa is a great place to buy used phones from private individuals. Depending on your timing, you can sometimes get really nice phones for less than $100. You can also purchase phones on Amazon and eBay. If you’d like to buy locally you can check Craigslist.
Many Android phones come locked to a specific cell service provider. In order to avoid complications and to give yourself as much flexibility as possible when it comes to your carrier, I highly recommend you only use an unlocked phone.
GSM Unlocked is the most common, and will work on the T-Mobile, AT&T and Cricket networks. Some newer phones are Universally Unlocked, which means they’ll also work on the Verizon, Sprint and Boost networks.
Another advantage of getting an unlocked phone is that it has a much higher likelihood of working in a foreign country.
In my opinion, a removable battery is one of the most important features to look for in a phone. This is a rare feature in newer phones, so you will probably need to buy an older phone if this is something you want.
Phone batteries slowly die as you use them. You’ll notice the maximum capacity reducing over time, and eventually you won’t be able to even turn the phone on at all. If your battery can’t be removed, this means your phone will never be usable again. Being able to replace your battery drastically extends the life of your phone.
Another advantage of a removable battery is the ability to purchase one with a much higher energy storage capacity. For example, the standard battery for my Galaxy S5 is rated at 2800Ah, but I can purchase one on Amazon which is rated at 7800Ah. This means my phone runs almost 3x longer before needing to charge, which is extremely important in a survival situation. A larger battery also usually comes with a larger sturdier case which serves to protect your phone from physical damage.
The final benefit to a phone with a removable battery is the ability to ensure it’s not broadcasting. In some situations it may be important that you’re 100% sure your phone isn’t giving away your position, and the best way to be sure of that is to remove its power source.
If you’re going to be using your Stealth Survival Phone out in the wilderness like me, then it’s going to brush up against rocks and sticks, and even occasionally get dropped to the ground. A screen protector is a thin shatter-proof glass shield that protects your delicate screen from cracks and scratches.
These are built specific to your phone model, so make sure you’re choosing the right version. I also recommend getting a pack containing several protectors (like this one)… you might be surprised how quickly you’ll damage the first one.
To increase the amount of life-saving information you can carry with you, having a large storage capacity is important. Phones generally come with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB storage available on the internal drive, but if it has an SD Card slot you can extend that drastically.
For example, my Galaxy S5 has an SD Card slot with the ability to handle a 128GB Micro SD Card. You can actually purchase 1TB SD Cards, but not all phones will work with them, so you’ll need to do your research before purchasing.
Having a lot of storage allows you to keep a large library of books, audio, videos and maps available to you even when don’t have access to the internet.
If you’re going to be using the cell tower system, you need to have a SIM Card installed inside the phone. Normally these are provided by your Cell Service Provider and are linked directly to your name in their databases, which makes it difficult to remain anonymous.
Fortunately you can purchase SIM Cards and Cell Phone & Data Service from second-hand providers such as StraightTalk which only record your email address and not your name. You can pick these up at any Walmart, create a unique anonymous email address specifically for this purpose, and activate your account online.
I decided to use the Samsung Galaxy S5, but if you want a bigger screen the Samsung Note 4 would do just as well. The only feature I’d want that these lack is the MAC Address Randomization (discussed below), but I felt it was a worthwhile trade-off for the removable batteries.
In order for the phone to be secure and assist us in survival situations, we will need the right software setup in the right way. In order to maximize security it is important to use Open Source Software, so we can be sure we aren’t being tracked. In some cases you may want to use proprietary apps, just be sure that you trust the company.
Rooting the Phone
In order to install a different version of Android, you are first going to need to Root your phone. Rooting means to give yourself access to the system files, which Android will deny by default. This is the most complicated part of the setup process, and the requirements are specific to each device, so you’ll have to search the internet for the steps necessary for your phone.
Keep in mind that if you make a misstep while going through the rooting process there is a potential that you brick your phone – meaning it becomes permanently unusable. Make sure you find a reputable guide, and don’t deviate from the steps they recommend.
Rooting the phone also unlocks a lot of features once you have the operating system installed, but it also creates some security risks at the same time. If you’re going for maximum security I recommend unrooting your phone once the OS is up and running. I personally prefer to keep it rooted.
There are many Open Source versions of the Android operating system available on the internet, each with its own unique feel, advantages and disadvantages. I’ve found the most user friendly and reliable to be LineageOS.
Head over to their download page, find your device in the menu on the left, and download the file it recommends. On the same page you can find installation instructions specific to your phone. You will need a Desktop PC in order to install the OS. I find that Windows is the easiest, but you can also do this on Apple OSX and Linux machines.
Even if your phone is in a locked state, the data written to the storage drives are still accessible to anyone with the right hardware. Most police stations these days have devices which can download your contact lists, texts, emails… basically anything on the drive. The only solution is to encrypt your drive.
If your phone and the version of the operating system you choose allow it, you’ll be given the option to encrypt your drive when installing the OS. If you opted to install an SD Card for more storage, you’ll have the option to encrypt it at the same time, but you will no longer be able to access that information on any other device.
If you do decide to encrypt your phone, do not forget the password you choose, because it’s impossible to access anything on your phone without it.
When using the default Android OS, the usual way of downloading Apps is through the Google Play Store. Using this method is a giant security risk, as you have to be logged into their service, and many of the apps you download send usage data directly to Google.
An excellent alternative is the F-Droid application, which provides you with access to thousands of free and open source apps. It functions very similarly to the Google Play Store in that you can search for and compare apps, and once downloaded it will keep the apps up-to-date with the latest versions.
You can also download apps directly from the internet in APK format, but this method carries the risk of getting infected with a virus. Also, if the App requires Google Play Services to run, then it will fail to launch or have other issues when running.
If your phone is connecting to the internet through cell towers or a WiFi router, your location can be identified via your IP Address. I recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, and setting the phone up to force all connections through it. VPNs route all internet traffic through a proxy somewhere else in the world. This will also allow you to access online services that might be censored in your area (e.g. China).
It’s important to note that a VPN will not protect you if you login to any account which has your identity associated with it. Doing so will link your name with any activity your IP Address is responsible for at the time.
I use and recommend ProtonVPN. You can utilize the service for free, and gain access to better servers and even TOR routing for a small monthly fee.
MAC Address Randomization
You can be tracked when using WiFi Networks via your MAC Address, which is an identifier hard-coded onto your device like the IMEI for Cell Towers. Some more recently released phones have something called MAC Address Randomization, which spoofs your identifier every time it connects to a new WiFi router.
I think this is something worth having, but since it generally only appears on newer devices, it generally means you can’t have this feature and a removable battery at the same time. I feel the removable battery is more important. I am on the lookout for a phone which has both capabilities, so please let me know if you discover one.
If the phone you choose has the option to unlock it with a fingerprint, I recommend not activating the feature and just rely on a passcode. In the United States the police can force you to use your fingerprint to unlock it, but they can’t force you to reveal or enter the passcode.
OsmAnd is a map application similar to Google Maps, except it’s open source, works offline and does not share your location. You can download maps of the geographical regions you’re interested in, including maps of trails, topographical contour lines and even points of interest with Wikipedia entries.
OsmAnd is a must have for those of you looking to use your phone for survival purposes. One of the biggest reasons for this is the ability to place your own markers, so you can keep track of the locations of food, water and shelter as you discover them. The App also works perfectly with GPS, so as long as you have a charged battery you’ll never get lost.
If you have the resources and know-how, I highly recommend setting up a dedicated server hosting the Nextcloud application. This will allow you to store all of your personal files, contacts and calendar information online in case your phone is catastrophically damaged. This information will be available from any device with an internet browser.
Nextcloud is a free and open source cloud storage service similar to Google’s GSuite. It will gives you access to file storage, note taking, calendar and contact syncing, task tracking, private video chat, track your phone’s location, and much more. Because you’d be hosting it on your own private server, nobody will have access to the information stored there unless you share it with them.
If you opt for dedicated server, I also recommend that you host your own private email service there using iRedMail, which is also free and open source. Email services like Google have access to your messages, and share those with the authorities when requested. If all of your emails are on your own private server then you can be sure nobody else has access.
If you don’t want to setup your own private mail server, at least use a mail service where your messages are encrypted, and can’t even be read by the company hosting them. I recommend Protonmail if this is the route you decide to go.
I recommend downloading and storing books, audio and video on the topic of surviving in the wild or off-grid type situations on your phone. In the very least you should install the Offline Survival Manual application, available on F-Droid, which contains a ton of useful information on shelter, food, fire, tools, animals, etc. for survival situations.
In a survival situation having a some form of entertainment can be important for maintaining your mental state. There are hundreds of free and open source games available on F-Droid. I recommend finding a few that you like which could keep you occupied for hours, and having them downloaded and ready.
Once you have your Stealth Survival Phone all setup, here are some accessories to consider bringing along to enhance the security and increase the length of time the battery lasts in the wild.
Signal Blocking Bag
The ConcealShield pouch from DefenderShield is lined with a material which blocks the radiation from your phone’s radio. The front pouch prevents the radiation from hitting you body but still allows it to communicate with nearby towers and WiFi routers. The inner pouch blocks the signal completely, which will prevent it from broadcasting or receiving any signal at all.
Solar USB Charger
If you’re going to be using this phone in survival situations, or just want it handy while your camping for days out in the wilderness, I recommend picking up a folding Solar USB Charger. This handy gadget ensures your phone never runs out of energy, assuming you get a decent amount of sun exposure every few days.
Backup Battery Pack
If you’re worried that you won’t get enough sun to get your phone charged with the Solar USB Charger alone, you can bring along a USB Battery Pack which holds enough energy to charge your phone 3 or more times. You can charge the backup battery pack with the USB Solar Panel as well, even at the same time you’re charging your phone!
Want Me to Build You One?
If you’d like a Stealth Survival Phone of your own, but don’t want to go through the trouble of learning how to set it all up, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll see if I can help you.
In return for a donation to me via http://gift.cahlen.org, you can send me all of the hardware you want to use, and I’ll do the rest and mail it back to you. I also might be willing to acquire the hardware myself and send you a completed phone… it all depends on my situation at the time.
I may also be willing to help you setup a dedicated server running Nextcloud and iRedMail for private cloud storage and email. Feel free to get in touch.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below!