Open Whisper Systems, creator of encrypted communication platform Signal, released an update today as an open beta to enable encrypted video calling. The app previously offered fully end-to-end encrypted chat and voice calling, but the addition of video will make it even easier to convey information without compromising security. The update also promises to improve the existing, somewhat clunky, voice calling feature.
Signal, endorsed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, is used by a diverse group of users. Anyone in a compromised location can take advantage of the app’s security features to communicate with others safely and securely. But the app’s demographic goes considerably beyond activists and journalists. People who prioritize security more generally use Signal for more benign functions — even casual communication with GIFs and other less sensitive content.
Video capabilities should serve both groups, assuming it can perform at a level that matches more traditional, and less secure, services like Apple’s FaceTime and Google’s Hangouts. To that point, Open Whisper Systems is continuing to work on making it easier for developers to incorporate Signal into their products.
Additionally, users will be able to use CallKit in iOS 10 to answer calls directly from their lock screen. Calls via Signal are effectively treated the same way as calls received natively on iPhone. Unfortunately, this integration might create vulnerabilities for the particularly privacy conscious because it will sync call duration and destination with iCloud. This feature can be turned off within your phone’s settings though if you’d prefer to prioritize security over convenience.
Moxie Marlinspike, founder of Open Whisper Systems, doesn’t believe that video presents too many additional challenges on the technical side when it comes to encryption. The feature simply leverages the existing secure messaging channel Signal is built on.
“Real-time encryption is almost more straight forward in some ways,” explains Marlinspike. “A call is synchronous communication that’s somewhat ephemeral which makes cryptography easier.”
To try out the new features included in the update, you’ll need to go into your Signal settings and enable “video calling beta” under “advanced.” Just remember that calls won’t work if the person you’re trying to reach hasn’t also enabled video.