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. Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

    Local Government

    LARGO — The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board mismanaged its finances, lacked accountability and disregarded its own rules, according to a scathing report released Wednesday by the county's inspector general.

    Rodney Fischer, the executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, resigned in January.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. A meatless burger that tastes like meat? Ciccio Restaurants will serve the Impossible Burger.

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The most red-hot hamburger in the nation right now contains no meat.

    Ciccio executive chef Luis Flores prepares an Impossible Burger Wednesday at the Epicurean Hotel Food Theatre in Tampa.
  3. Construction starts on USF medical school, the first piece of Tampa's Water Street project


    TAMPA — Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida's new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

    Construction is underway for the new Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute in downtown Tampa. This view is from atop Amalie Arena, where local officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate the first piece of what will be the new Water Street District. The USF building is expected to open in late 2019. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  4. Tampa Bay among top 25 metro areas with fastest growing economies

    Economic Development

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016. According to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tampa Bay's gross domestic product, or GDP, increased 4.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to hit $126.2 billion.

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy in the country for 2016. Rentals were one of the areas that contributed to Tampa Bay's GDP growth. Pictured is attorney David Eaton in front of his rental home. 
  5. Tampa Bay cools down to more moderate home price increases

    Real Estate

    The increase in home prices throughout much of the Tampa Bay area is definitely slowing from the torrid rate a year ago.

    This home close to Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa sold for $3.055 million in August, making it Hillsborough County's top sale of the month. [Courtesy of Bredt Cobitz]