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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]

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