NOTE: I’m going to be talking about a cross-platform privacy app in the following post. I have very strong feelings related to government and ISP/Telecom surveillance, however that topic is far too large to address in this post (maybe some time in the future?). As will soon be obvious, I believe that privacy is a personal right but that protecting it is your responsibility and should be taken seriously.
I’ve always had a certain interest in security, privacy, and encryption. Sadly, my brain doesn’t work in such a way that allows me to get involved in the intricacies of actual security development, so instead I sit on the sidelines and watch with bated breath for each new development in this grand international chess game of laws and hacks (or real life version of Person of Interest).
A few years ago a series of apps were released by a company called Open Whisper Systems which promised the end-to-end encryption of text messages in an easy-to-setup (practically out of the box) interface. This is important because it prevents telecoms and governments from (ostensibly) being able to spy on your day-to-day communications. In the words of Martha Stewart: It’s a good thing.
The only problem? It didn’t work.
Well that’s not entirely true. It totally worked, messages were just frequently delayed. Turns out there was an issue with a small number of accounts and that a fix was “forthcoming.” But long text delays were a blocker for text messaging in the 21st century, so my circle and I all went back to sending messages in the clear. We were collectively enough to make Edward Snowden weep into his borsht.
Fast forward to earlier this month.
I was attending WCUS and a friend and colleague of mine sat me down and absolutely insisted that I give it a try again (there was practically hair pulling and arm twisting involved). The app had been rebranded as Signal for both the iPhone and Android — it used to have different names for each platform — and bundled with their VOIP solution. He insisted that it was a complete game changer. I’m genuinely glad he did all that arm twisting because since then I have found myself to be a convert back to the world of secured communication. So much so that I have been slowly converting my friends and family along with me. Oh look, and I’m even writing a blog post about how awesome it is! 😉
Not only are the days of delayed texts gone, but the VOIP solution is frictionless . . . yes, this means you can make and receive encrypted calls to other Signal users which are completely and totally private. Discovery of other Signal users is also ridiculously easy, it scans your address book and lets you text or call anyone which it detects on its network. A good portion of this is probably due to all of the work they had to put in to their system since they are the folks behind the encryption of WhatsApp. Nothing like jumping in to the deep end with a massive pre-existing network to get your stuff working, amirite?
And as a final nice touch, there are privacy assurances like “fingerprint” words that appear when you make a call which you can verify with the other caller, and a scanner that you can use to verify identities in person.
In short? This is a really kick-ass app which will make you feel like James Bond and you should already be using it. Because no government has the right to know what we say to each other.