Don’t want someone else handing your text messages, pictures, video or phone conversations over to the government? There’s an app for that.
An iOS app called Signal is a project out of Open Whisper Systems, a not-for-profit collective of hackers dedicated to making it harder for prying government eyes to get a hold of your information. It gets high marks from both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a comprehensive solution for protecting your privacy.
The second version of the app, which launched this week on the App Store, makes it possible to send encrypted group, text, picture and video messages for free from iPhone to iPhone. For those who want to share with their friends on Android, the community organization currently has two Android apps — TextSecure and RedPhone — that need to be combined to do the same thing as Signal does on iOS. TextSecure is the text message solution and RedPhone is the encrypted phone-call solution. The plan is to combine those two into one Android app for Signal users.
Recent security breaches and other events have prompted a number of apps to emerge that promise encrypted communications between mobile phones. The Dutch SIM card manufacturer Gemalto is just one company among many of the alleged government hacking operations.
Meanwhile, several tech companies have decided to take privacy measures into their own hands after the revelations from Edward Snowden that the NSA was capturing the private data of U.S. citizens from several Silicon Valley tech giants. Signal was created to make that sort of mass collection too difficult to pursue.
“Even if we wanted to, we can’t hand your information over to anyone,” Founder Moxie Marlinspike tells me over the phone.
Marlinspike knows his way around encryption technology. He started cloud-based password-cracking service ChapCrack and formerly ran Twitter’s security team.
“The idea is to scramble the information so well that it’s not worth pursuing. We want to make it hard to get your information to the point that it’s not worth going after,” Marlinspike says.
There are other encryption apps and tools out there, such as CryptoCat, iMessage or PGP (pretty good privacy) made to protect your privacy. But Signal hits all seven of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s criteria for security on its Secure Messaging Scorecard.
Adding to the frustration of the NSA in its fight to get at your data, Signal’s code is open source. This means anyone can go to GitHub and use the source code to create encrypted apps. WhatsApp recently incorporated Open Whisper System’s code into the Android version of its app.
“We want as many people as possible to have the capability embedded within their apps so that nobody can get your information,” Marlinspike says.