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Free App Encrypts, Destroys Mobile Messages

Startup Wickr launches today with iPhone, iPad, iTouch app that ‘leaves no trace’ of text, video, and picture messages
A startup launched today with a free app for the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch that employs military-grade encryption and self-destruction for text, video, and picture messages for privacy purposes.

DefCon veteran and security venture catalyst Nico Sell, a co-founder of the Wickr, says the time is right for this form of user-friendly private communication. The app also comes with anti-forensics features so messages can’t be resurrected. “Today by default, we send an email, and everything lasts forever,” but it should not be so easy to monitor or hack, she says. The goal of Wickr is to “leave no trace,” and to by default ensure that online communications are not traceable by governments, corporations, or bad guys, according to the company’s mission.

“We made this app for hundreds of millions of users, not just for the paranoid people. It’s so easy to use, so we know this can [catch on]. My three-year-old can send an encrypted message,” Sell says.

Wickr is based on 256-bit symmetric AES encryption and RSA 4096 encryption, as well as a proprietary algorithm. “It’s the first end-to-end encryption application that works without relying on a PGP key,” says Robert Statica, information technology professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology and one of the co-founders of Wickr. He says Wickr’s servers don’t see users’ accounts, and all it stores is a cryptographic version of the users’ Wickr IDs and hardware IDs, so they remain anonymous.

In a text session on Wickr, for example, only the recipient’s device can decrypt the message. And users set a retention policy for how long a message is saved before it self-destructs.

An Android version of the app is in the works as well as a paid, enterprise version of the software that will roll out in a couple of months that allows for higher-volume video and voice messages, for instance. But Wickr doesn’t plan to remain only in the mobile device space: laptop and desktop versions are also in the plans to protect email and other communications, its founders say.

Will anonymous, encrypted communication entice enterprise IT departments as a new security app, or raise data leakage concerns? “Leaking is a problem. But data that’s destroyed can’t be leaked,” says security expert Dan Kaminsky, who acts as a formal advisor to the company.

Kaminsky says the bottom line with Wickr is that it’s a communication environment with the expectation of privacy. “When you send a message, it will be deleted, and when you receive a message,” the app later deletes it, he says.

Wickr’s Sell says the self-destruct feature of the app is key. “We’ve all had friends’ emails [hacked] and posted online and it wasn’t their mistake: someone else was not doing good security,” says Sell, who is the founder of DefCon Kids, Montara Mountain, and several security companies

Encryption technology has been around for a long time, but its use remains the exception rather than the rule for email and other person-to-person communications. “Wickr is part of a second wave of security technologies that’s trying to integrate usability for normal people. Sure, us nerds can figure out PGP and have key-signing parties,” Kaminsky says, but most people can’t do that.

Wickr’s other co-founders are Kara Coppa, a security expert with military and commercial experience who pioneered the military’s first intrusion prevention system deployment; Christopher Howell, a former investigator for the State of New Jersey with experience in computer crime investigations and forensics; and Robert Statica, an IT professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

[Immaturity in mobile-device hardware and operating-system environments is holding back organizations' deployments of strong cryptographic protections around mobile applications. See Mobile's Cryptography Conundrums.]

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