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1/31/2013
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Military-Grade iOS Secure Messaging App Gets User-Friendlier

Wickr now sends secure and self-destructing PDFs and images

A messaging app that self-destructs all text, video, and picture messages for privacy purposes now comes with features that make finding friends and sharing media easier—but still ultra-privately.

Wickr, a startup co-founded by DefCon veteran and security venture catalyst Nico Sell, in June released the free app for the iPhone that comes with anti-forensics features so messages can't be resurrected. The app ensures that there's no trace of online communication to avoid access by governments, corporations, or cybercriminals.

Sell points out that one of Wickr's key uses is anonymous correspondence between journalists and their sources that can't be intercepted or traced. The app is based on 256-bit symmetric AES encryption and RSA 4096 encryption, as well as a proprietary algorithm, and Wickr's servers have no view of user accounts: they only store a cryptographic version of the user IDs and hardware IDs.

Wickr now works across all iOS devices to a user's account, and can send among Wickr users secure and self-destructing PDFs and images from Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive.

"This is a protocol for secure messaging that can apply to different forms of social media," Sell says.

A new contact search feature in the app lets Wickr users find their friends using the app and securely link their phone number and email to their Wickr IDs: "Select iPhone Contact and Wickr will automatically determine if they have an account and allow you to message them," according to a description of the new features. But it's optional: if you want to remain anonymous on Wickr, you don't have to employ that function.

"Wickr ID Connect is the most important part of what were doing. We believe we're going to set an industry standard—this is something all apps should do. When we designed Wickr, we designed it to be anonymous," Sell says. "That's really difficult to do, but we found a way to do that."

Wickr doesn't upload contacts back and forth in the clear and doesn't store or take personal information from users. "That's the big differentiator. It's an elegant way of connecting with friends without collecting personal information," she says.

The app supports longer video and audio messages now as well, and the messages self-destruct after a predetermined period of time. Auto-login is now an option with the app so users don't have to type their password each time.

"This is one of the most significant updates since we first launched," Sell says. "Most products start by building a community, and then add privacy after. We started with a super-secure product, and we are adding more usability as we go."

Wickr is among a new generation of startups aimed at making communication more private, and leaving no trace of personal information on third party servers. SnapChat is a mobile app for sending photos that disappear shortly after the recipient views them, for instance, and a new app service for iOS called DeleteMe Mobile helps users identify and remove their personally identifiable information from Internet-facing databases.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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