Make us your home page

Levels of privacy can vary for different messaging apps

Nico Sell is a co-founder of Wickr, which claims to offer “military grade” encryption. 

New York Times

Nico Sell is a co-founder of Wickr, which claims to offer “military grade” encryption. 

It's officially a post-Snowden world, and my inbox is filled with pitches from companies promoting their secure messaging apps. But can you trust them?

As the messaging wars heat up, security seems to be the big differentiator —the levels of security range from "military grade" to lightweight, depending on the app. But security expert Bruce Schneier said that when it comes to evaluating a secure messaging app, the real question lies in why you need it.

"Secure means what?" he said. "If I say my house is secure, it's not secure against bombs."

Some secure apps promise much more than others.

On the heavyweight side are apps such as TextSecure and Gliph. The latter is a communications app that includes encrypted messaging and email services and private web chats

Telegram is a popular Russian messaging app whose creators were so confident in its ability to secure your messages that they offered a $200,000 reward to anyone who could decrypt its intercepted traffic. In the first contest, which ended March 1, no one managed to do it.

Wickr has been around for a while and boasts not only of "military grade" message encryption of text, pictures and video, but also the ability to control how long a recipient can view a message before it's deleted.

And then there are ephemeral messaging services — light on things such as encryption but promising that your messages will disappear before they can be used against you. Snapchat kicked it off for photos, of course, but now there's also Confide, Frankly, Ansa and the new Mark Cuban venture, CyberDust.

But the government could secretly issue a court order forcing a messaging app to circumvent its own encryption, as happened with the secure email service Lavabit, or even ordering an ephemeral messaging app to keep messages it said it had deleted.

Schneier said that no matter the level of security promised, consider this question: "What does secure mean?"

Levels of privacy can vary for different messaging apps 03/29/14 [Last modified: Sunday, March 30, 2014 6:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Would you let your company implant a chip in you?

    Working Life

    Would you ask an employee to get a chip implanted in her hand? Sounds invasive and intrusive. But come Aug. 1, one company in Wisconsin will be giving it a try.

    Three Square Market - a developer of software used in vending machines - is offering all of its employees the option to get a microchip implanted between the thumb and forefinger. [Photo from video]
  2. Daniel Lipton resigns as artistic director of Opera Tampa


    TAMPA — Daniel Lipton has resigned as artistic director of Opera Tampa, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts announced.

    Daniel Lipton became the artistic director and conductor of Opera Tampa in 2012. Lipton replaced the opera's only previous director, Anton Coppola, who retired. [Times file (2012)]
  3. Throwback Tampa Bay station 102.9 goes from R&B jams to WFLA-AM's conservative talk


    Talk radio station WFLA-AM (970) began simulcasting on 102.9 FM in the Tampa area this morning. 

    Tampa's 102.9 is going from Throwback Tampa Bay to WFLA-AM's news radio.
  4. Bank of Tampa expanding into Sarasota


    TAMPA — The Bank of Tampa is expanding to Sarasota County. It opened a loan office this month in downtown Sarasota at 1858 Ringling Blvd., which will be converted to a full-service branch within the year, the company said in a release Monday.

    The Bank of Tampa is expanding to Sarasota. Charles Murphy, pictured, will lead the Sarasota branch. | [Courtesy of The Bank of Tampa]
  5. Tampa Bay home prices still climbing, though more slowly

    Real Estate

    Tampa Bay home prices rose again in June, although the once-torrid pace of increases shows signs of slowing.

    This three story home in Port Richey's gated Harborpointe sold for $1.15 million in June, making it the top sale in Pasco County for the month.
[Penny Perry]