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Seek Remote Help

Seek help

Establish secure communications when reaching out for help.

Learn how to

Seeking help...

Isaac worries his computer might be hacked into. He wants to reach out to his friend Brenda who he thinks can advise her.

But Isaac thinks that he might be at risk if he reveals too much about his situation, or worse, that he could put Brenda herself at risk if he doesn't use secure communications to reach out to her.

Unencrypted channels

Normal communications

As a general rule, it is important to understand that most ‘normal’ communications tools are not very secure against eavesdropping.

Eavesdropping on phone calls

Mobile and landline phone communication is not encrypted and can be listened to by governments, law enforcement agencies, or other parties with the necessary technical equipment.

Sending a postcard

Sending unencrypted communication is like sending a postcard, anyone who has access to the postcard can read the message.

Normal communications are insecure against eavesdropping

Encrypted channels

Secret postcard

Sending encrypted communication is like placing the postcard inside a locked box, which only you and those you trust know the combination to and are able to open and read the message.

Choosing the right channels

Secure communication is always a trade-off between security and convenience. Choosing the most appropriate form of secure communication will depend on your unique situation and the activities in which you are involved.

End-to-end encryption

A communication tool that provides end-to-end encryption is recommended. PGP-encrypted email, or chat with OTR or Signal on your phone encrypt messages "all the way" (between you and your recipient).

HTTPS encryption

If an end-to-end encrypted tool is not available, use tools that encrypt message only between you and the provider. Such as Gmail, Facebook, or Twitter which all use HTTPS.

Use the best available channel

This, in turn, is better than using unencrypted communications (such as your phone or text messages). Do the best that you can with the resources and skills available.

Communicating safely

To learn more about communicating safely on a computer, refer to the Secure communications lesson. To learn more about communicating safely on a smartphone, refer to the Safe Phones lesson.

Use encrypted channels when possible

Dealing with insecure channels

Reaching out for help

Start with the most secure form of communication you can manage and the person you reach out to may be able to help you establish a line of communications that is more secure, if necessary.

Be careful using insecure channels

In many cases, it is better to reach out for help insecurely than not to reach out for help at all. You might want to share only limited information or use code words when you know that the channel is insecure.

Use alternate devices

If you believe that you cannot trust your computer or device you might want to find an alternate trustworthy device. You might also want to go to the Malware lesson.

Establishing trust when reaching out

Always establish trust

Whether you are helping someone remotely or seeking help from a third party, establishing trust is very important.

Watch out for bad advice

It might be safer to presume that an adversary may have access to all your account details as well as your communications when seeking help and might be attempting to provide specific, bad advice.

Have a video or phone call

If you know the party you're reaching out to, using a video call or a phone call will help establish that you're really in contact with them.

Use a new email account

When you are initiating contact with third parties you might want to create a new email account from a trusted device. If possible, do not rely on unknown people you find online.

Organisations you may reach out to

Dealing with digital emergencies:

  • Digital Security Helpline (Access Now): help@accessnow.org

    Dealing with emergencies within the first 24 hours:

  • Front Line Defenders: info@frontlinedefenders.org
  • Rory Peck Trust: www.rorypecktrust.org

    Dealing with emergencies after the first 24 hours:

  • Amnesty International: www.amnesty.org
  • Committee to Protect Journalists: JournAsst@cpj.org
  • Reporters Sans Frontieres: internet@rsf.org

    Providing digital emergency expertise:

  • Tactical Technology Collective: ttc@tacticaltech.org
  • Digital Defenders Partnership: ddp@hivos.org
  • Internews: info@internews.org
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation: info@eff.org


Landlines are not encrypted but mobile phones are

Yes No Mobile and landline phone communication is not encrypted and can be listened to by governments, law enforcement agencies, or other parties with the necessary technical equipment.


  • en/topics/practice-1-emergencies/0-getting-started: Find out about other types of emergencies
  • en/topics/understand-2-security/0-getting-started: Dig deeper on various aspects of security
  • en/topics/understand-3-opsec/0-getting-started: Find out about what operational security or opsec means
  • en/topics/understand-4-digisec/0-getting-started: Learn more about important concepts of digital security
  • en/topics/tool-1-signal/0-getting-started: Find out about Signal for your encrypted communications

See also: