9/16/2013
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Post-NSA Leaks, Android Encrypted Texting Arrives

New Android apps bring secure texting to "the masses"

A free Android app for sending encrypted text messages was released today amid escalating privacy concerns that the NSA overstepped its authority in its capture of communications and may have worked to weaken encryption standards.

Wickr's announcement followed that of Silent Circle, which earlier this month began offering a similar free app for its subscribers. Both companies already had offered an iOS version of encrypted text-messaging, but now have added Android secure texting to the mix. Wickr's Android texting app is free. The new apps could potentially propel encrypted texting to the mainstream, experts say.

The new Android encrypted messaging services come on the heels of the shutdown of two encrypted email services -- Lavabit, which closed its doors altogether, and Silent Circle, which dropped its Silent Mail service in the fallout from the Edward Snowden leaks about the NSA's spying programs. Ladar Levison, owner and operator of encrypted email company Lavabit, said he shuttered his business after being faced with having "to become complicit in crimes against the American people," a statement experts say indicates Lavabit may have been pressured to give up customer information or deal with an eavesdropping warrant by the feds.

The New York Times reported last week that the Snowden documents "suggest" the NSA "generated one of the random number generators used in a 2006 N.I.S.T. standard -- called the Dual EC DRBG standard -- which contains a back door for the N.S.A."

[The NSA's systematic crypto-cracking and other tactics have changed the data-protection game for enterprises. See Keep Calm, Keep Encrypting -- With A Few Caveats .]

While some encrypted email services have struggled to find a way to survive commercially post-Snowden leaks, secure text-messaging now is available to the masses.

Nico Sell, CEO and co-founder of Wickr and r00tz, says Wickr agrees with Lavabit's farewell message: Don't trust any U.S. company with your personal information. "We agree completely. This is why we built Wickr to be a zero-knowledge system. We have no keys and no information," Sell said in an email interview. "With this type of architecture, the U.S. is the best place to be to offer private communications to the world. It is also the best place to keep our servers."

Wickr anonymizes users' contacts and can't read the text messages or any content sent by the user. "Therefore, no criminal or rogue government can take them from us," said Robert Statica, co-founder and CTO of Wickr, today in a blog post announcing the new Android service. "It is our commitment to keep our users communications between only them and the intended recipient."

Silent Circle's Silent Text works similarly: no logging of user metadata, and encryption keys reside on users' devices. Both apps also autodelete messages to leave no trace.

One of the challenges of private, anonymous texting is the interface with user contact lists. Sell says Wickr doesn't use address books like many other messaging apps do. "The next update will have an automated connect system that is responsible. We hope this to be a model for all future apps," she says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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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