Signal Is Finally Bringing Its Secure Messaging to the Masses

from Wired

Last month, the cryptographer and coder known as Moxie Marlinspike was getting settled on an airplane when his seatmate, a Midwestern-looking man in his sixties, asked for help. He couldn’t figure out how to enable airplane mode on his aging Android phone. But when Marlinspike saw the screen, he wondered for a moment if he was being trolled: Among just a handful of apps installed on the phone was Signal.

Marlinspike launched Signal, widely considered the world’s most secure end-to-end encrypted messaging app, nearly five years ago, and today heads the nonprofit Signal Foundation that maintains it. But the man on the plane didn’t know any of that. He was not, in fact, trolling Marlinspike, who politely showed him how to enable airplane mode and handed the phone back.

“I try to remember moments like that in building Signal,” Marlinspike told WIRED in an interview over a Signal-enabled phone call the day after that flight. “The choices we’re making, the app we’re trying to create, it needs to be for people who don’t know how to enable airplane mode on their phone,” Marlinspike says.

Marlinspike has always talked about making encrypted communications easy enough for anyone to use. The difference, today, is that Signal is finally reaching that mass audience it was always been intended for—not just the privacy diehards, activists, and cybersecurity nerds that formed its core user base for years—thanks in part to a concerted effort to make the app more accessible and appealing to the mainstream.

More here.

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7 Comments

  1. I have a love/hate relationship with everyone’s everything being encrypted, but the situations where it could be bad are minuscule in comparison to those where it’s a good thing. While what’s been put in my head was the San Bernardino shooter’s phone not being able to be tapped by authorities for weeks, that one off scenario does not have enough legitimacy as an argument against encryption. “What if we need to crack a terrorists phone to stop an attack?” Is violating the privacy of millions worth potentially (without guarantee) stopping a violent event? I can’t say that it is, because these arguments allow a much more realistic event to occur; the people who have your data sell it. While they fear monger and attack people for having poor intentions (“what do you have to hide?”), they cover up the millions of dollars they make with people’s information.
    With this in mind, I can not recommend a service like Signal enough. While I was growing up, I dabbled in different chat apps: What’sApp, Kik, Line, and Facebook Messenger have all been on my phone at some point. A thought that is, to me, scarier than 1 of 1 million users being able to plot a crime is the fact that all 1 million users of these apps have no ability to secure their data. The fact that encryption was, for a time, reserved for people who took the time and had the know-how to do it is sad, but you can’t exploit someone who knows what exploitation is. With the recent scandals regarding the sale of private data, it’s no surprise that apps like Signal other encryption services or VPNs are becoming more popular; as people’s lives are found more and more online, it is becoming necessary to defend that life and protect it in the same way people protect their actual lives. If everyone treated identity theft and data theft like being mugged or robbed, I feel like there’d be more of a concerted effort to protect and encrypt our digital lives.

  2. Before reading this article, I had no idea what Signal was. However, after reading and doing some research on the what it actually is, I can see it is something very interesting. Signal is an encrypted messaging app that is similar to other mobile apps that allow for messaging like WhatsApp and other messaging platforms. Signal is a step above in my opinion because it allows for the privacy and protection of data that these other platforms do not provide. In our age when companies are allowed access to almost everything that we do while using their platforms, it is good to see that we still have other options to aid our privacy. In the interview with the creator of Signal the article outlines how he tried to make it simplistic where it could be used by anyone, even the man who didn’t know how to use airplane mode on his phone. A service which protects everyone who uses it but is also not overcomplication where only a certain amount of people who understand the software can use it.
    The main point of the article is to show that Signal is now finally reaching its full potential, and the audience that is using the app is rapidly increasing. Following a big investment from WhatsApp founder Brian Acton who sold his company to Facebook. Acton stated that his big disagreements with Facebook came from the fact that they wanted to eliminate the encrypted messaging that WhatsApp used to use, similar to what Signal does in their messaging app. He wants to see Signal thrive and not be broken down by a big company like Facebook. It is very well know that companies like Facebook and other big social media companies want as much access your personal data as possible. Contradicting the entire purpose of apps like Signal. It is good to see more people taking into consideration their privacy and using apps like Signal more frequently to stop these companies from having access to all of their data.

  3. With the constant hackings and database compromises throughout tech companies, or with government organizations such the National Security Agency being exposed for spying on millions of people, the need for encrypted and inaccessible messaging apps have become significantly more important. Most rational people do not want their government spying on them or should not want anyone spying on them, even if they have “nothing to hide.” The ideas that Signal are incorporating into their encrypted messaging app is unlike what we have ever seen before. They are effectively creating the most secure app for communication that has ever hit the market because of their belief that people have the right to have complete privacy. I personally never used any encrypted apps such as WhatsApp because while they are secure, they are also hard to transition to if majority of the people you talk to do not use it. While I have never used them, I do understand the need for them. Companies like Apple can no longer continue to supposedly grant you your privacy when law enforcement agencies are constantly needing to break through these encryptions to gather data from secured phones as the article references. It’s so interesting to see how Signal is trying to go above and beyond in ensuring the privacy of the users compared to other apps in ways that they have to physically do their own research to figure out how to innovate as their innovations have never been done before with cryptography and creating encrypted messengers. The one thing I particularly noticed was how Signal mentioned that an issue they receive criticism for is that users have to hand their phone number to other users in order to message each other, so they are trying to develop ways in which they can be able to have the app associated with identities rather than phone numbers, and they innovated the app so that even if you get a new phone number, all of your contacts are synced on Signal servers. With big companies and the government having ill intentions trying to access your “private” communications and conversations, it is nice to see that there are other companies that genuinely seem to care about the user’s privacy such as Signal.

  4. The security and privacy issues that many tech companies face daily can show the importance of the investment that Signal is making with their encryption app. With many messaging platforms, we have seen the collection of data and intrusion of privacy. This is one area that Signal can stand out amongst the others because of their messaging app with encrypted data. Since the market for messaging platforms severely lacks the security and privacy that an encrypted app like Signal offers, the possibility to prosper is there. For the future of safe and secure communication, the use of encrypted messaging platforms will be on the rise and Signal can be a dominate force in that market.
    The article showed how Signal’s initial purpose was to infuse their encrypted messaging for larger companies like WhatsApp and others but with the large investment from Brian Action, have the potential to be a dominant app in the market. Signal’s biggest hurdle was to appeal to the masses and not just to the privacy diehards and cybersecurity nerds. This was possible by an incredible effort to make the app more appealing and accessible to the normal user. The ability of Signal to meet these demands has been possible by their company’s growth, going from 3 to 20 full-time employees and the massive investment. Another area of promise for Signal is their push to create the app to be multifunctional like their competitors as to appeal to the normal person.
    This article gave substantial information about the growth and importance of an encrypted app like Signal. Prior to reading this article, I had bare minimal knowledge and understanding of this company and other messaging platforms. The importance of security and privacy especially with communication is on the rise and the company that can make it secure can be very successful. The innovation shown by Signal to adjust their encrypted messaging app to add likeness to the masses will be the crucial part of their future growth. An important part of this article and Signal’s future is the involvement of Brian Action, WhatsApp cofounder, who will be able to assist and guide this smaller company to become the behemoth that their competitors are. It was an interesting read and I look forward to following the path of Signal and their future endeavors.

  5. The widespread implementation of secure messaging is something that everyone should be excited about. While most messaging apps have some form of encryption to them, most of these apps have still been shown to be vulnerable to hackers. In today’s day and age, the risk of these cyber attacks is increasing at an exponential rate. The ability for people to communicate without risk of these communications being leaked not only puts and individual’s mind at ease, but allows for these conversations between people to once again become private. With increasing amounts of the population concerned about their privacy, in regards to their web presence, I believe that this communications platform has the ability to be the way of the future. I do believe however, this company will have difficulties maintaining being competitive if this market increases rapidly over a short period of time. This rapid increase in the market will cause large investments into this sector Which will put a large strain on signals competitive edge over other companies. With an increase in the competition, Signal will find itself competing with the tech giants of the world such as Apple, Facebook, and Google. Signal will be in dire need of more capital if it will want to maintain its leadership status in the industry.
    This technology can not only benefit people due to the decreased risk of your conversations being hacked but as Eli Garay discussed in his comment it also allows for people to protect themselves from the government’s prying eyes. As discussed in various comments it is not shocking to discover that the government spies on peoples’ web activities, as well as communications in the name of cybersecurity. While it is still highly debated whether this type of government intervention is an invasion of American citizens’ privacy, it does still occur in the U.S. Singal gives individuals the ability to take control over what the government can and can’t see.
    I do believe that in the near future there will be a large push for people to take control back of their web privacy. This communication platform will be the answer to many of these people’s prayers if they are able to keep their current competitive edge in the market.

  6. I had never heard of this app before until I read this article. I think they are on a really promising path in the future since privacy is something that people are always worried about since there is so much technology around us today in society. Along with that the users can share information privately with others. Other companies that have messaging apps don’t keep the information private like Signal does which I feel that other companies should follow the same path as they are taking because this is what the people want when it comes to messaging others online. Since people essentially live their lives through social media or on the web in general this can provide them with a certain amount of privacy that no other app does since a lot of the companies tend to sell personal data for their own benefit.

    Singal’s encrypting features is a very future proof idea because cybersecurity has become a big issue ever since technology has become mainstream and I wouldn’t doubt that this app will become one of the most used messaging apps in society down the line. Before I read this article, I didn’t really have any prior knowledge about this topic even though I am an active internet use myself and when I was reading this, it influenced me to check this app out since I truly believe that this is something everyone should have installed.

  7. I’ll be honest, I was skeptical at first when I started reading the article. A company in today’s world that truly values it’s customers’ privacy and wants to ensure their security? It’s crazy how this simple concept seems so far fetched nowadays, but that is the truth – Google stores browser history and other information of its users in servers, that we all know to be easily accessible and “sellable”. Facebook creates a “web footprint” for its users, even if they do not have a Facebook, and has been under scrutiny for allowing fake news and bots for flooding it’s pages. Then, we have some startups like WhatsApp, who want to make communication more secure and encrypted, but in order to get more funding and allow further growth, deals are made with companies that don’t share the same ideals. Which again, we saw with WhatsApp.

    This goes even further, companies that make promises to ensure our privacy and security cannot even guarantee it. Cybersecurity is tricky because the apps we download have access to our data, and can be breached themselves, effectively creating unintended back-doors. This brings me back to Signal, and after reading the whole article I am entirely less skeptical. Moxie Marlinspike, and his ideals are exactly what society needs today in these questionable times. If Mr. Marlinspike and Signal can continue to ensure the security of its users, I would see no reason as to why everyone does not have this app already.

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