Messaging app aims to be a safer Snapchat

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

(CNN) — On the Internet, a truly private conversation is hard to come by.

Personal communications on apps, e-mail and social networks are very much an open book, and they leave a trail of personal data that can potentially be accessed by criminals, corporations and government agencies.

No wonder more and more people are using apps whose messages quickly disappear from phones once they’ve been read.

Take Wickr, a self-destructing messaging app that takes security very seriously. The free app has been available on iOS for a little more than a year and on Monday, it expanded its reach to a wider audience with an Android version.

Like the better-known Snapchat (and the lesser-known Poke), messages on Wickr live briefly before supposedly vanishing forever from your phone and the prying eyes of computer servers.

There are many security advantages to this type of communication. The format makes it difficult for recipients to share, forward and spread messages. Any sensitive photos or texts have a better chance of not becoming a permanent artifact on the Internet. They are also deleted from the companies’ servers, making it difficult for hackers, criminals or government agencies to retrieve old conversations.

Snapchat has become hugely popular in the past year. Its users now send more than 350 million photos a day. The company has played down the security advantages of self-destructing messages, focusing instead on the playful aspects of the “ephemeral” messaging trend, like having fun and living in the moment.

Fairly or not, the service has also developed a reputation as a platform for sexting.

“Snapchat is not a great way to send photos you want to keep safe and secure,” said CEO Jordan Cook at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference last week. He cited the ability of recipients to take screenshots and of hackers to access content as reasons the platform wasn’t safe for “inappropriate photos.”

Wickr was developed by computer-security experts and has some heavy-duty layers of security to keep communications anonymous and private. Each message — whether text, photo, video or voice — is encrypted with a one-time-use unique key, and only the sender and Wickr users have those keys. Any telling metadata is stripped out when you send attachments, and deleted messages are forensically erased, or “shredded,” from your device. Wickr also limits the number of servers that see an individual message in transit.

“We believe that this is completely uncrackable,” said Nico Sell, CEO and co-founder of Wickr.

Wickr also has a few more messaging features than the minimalist Snapchat. You can choose to let messages live for days, not just seconds. The iOS app can send encrypted attachments, though that feature is not yet available on Android.

Wickr’s founders frequently test the app with their own network of well-known hackers, and as well as with a tougher crowd: kids.

“We really made it to try and protect them from the permanence of the Internet,” said Sell, whose own children use the app.

There are always security risks. If your phone is compromised, a hacker could track keystrokes while you are typing out messages. People are another potential weak link — someone could steal your phone while you are logged in. Or the person on the receiving end of your messages could violate your trust and share the information.

“You have to remember, there’s no magic pill for betrayers,” said Sell.

Unlike Snapchat, Wickr doesn’t give a notification when someone captures a screenshot. It’s difficult to take one, and the company thought a notification would give users a false sense of security.

Wickr doesn’t just want to take on Snapchat, it also hopes to be an alternative to Facebook Messenger, Skype and free International texting tools like WhatsApp. Typical online-communication tools store information on servers indefinitely. That can include the content of messages, participants in the conversation, time stamps and even location information.

Many of the companies that host the messages, like Google and Facebook, make their money on personal data which they use to sell targeted ads. They aren’t invested in keeping your personal data private because it’s not smart business.

Wickr has a different type of business plan that isn’t based on personal data. The app is free, but eventually the company will charge its power users for in-app purchases, such as paying for a message to live forever.

In a year filled with increased awareness of cybersecurity and the government’s ability to snoop on digital communications, Wickr’s anonymous, highly secure communication may be a killer feature all on its own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

1 Comment

  • Snapchat for pc

    hello there and thank you for your info – I’ve definitely picked up anything new from right here.

    I did however expertise several technical issues using this website,
    as I experienced to reload the site lots of times previous to I could
    get it to load properly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK?
    Not that I’m complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will sometimes
    affect your placement in google and could damage your high quality score if
    ads and marketing with Adwords. Well I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and
    could look out for much more of your respective intriguing content.
    Ensure that you update this again very soon.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.