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David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

Simple Text-Message Encryption Tool Broadens Base

It took a torrent of NSA revelations to spur major new technology efforts to make Internet communications more private and secure.

  • December 11, 2013

For years, Internet users understood they had to live with a certain tradeoff: to enjoy the many benefits of an open network–one built originally for trusted researchers–they had to give up some security and privacy.  But with the revelations from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden about massive online surveillance, users are starting to see that, perhaps, much more can be done to protect them.

The latest development is a new effort to make it easy for far more people to encrypt their text messages.   Open-source technology from Whisper Systems takes care of everything, with no special user action required, as long as the recipient also has the technology on her phone.  In a new effort to expand the user base, the technology will be baked into a new release of CyanogenMod, an open source Android firmware distribution that has about ten million users.  

We’ve recently seen members of the Internet Engineering Task Force–that loosely organized band of engineers who keep the Internet’s protocols updated and improved–ask Tor, the online anonymity technology, to consider becoming an Internet standard (see “Group Thinks Anonymity Should be Baked Into the Internet Itself”).  Companies like Google and Yahoo have started encrypting more of their traffic between data centers (see “NSA Takes Huge Amounts of Data From Google and Yahoo”). And there’s a new tool being built to give you insight into what the NSA can learn by looking at the logs of your texting and calling activity (see  ”Call-Log App Aims to Reverse Engineer NSA Surveillance”).   

Just as we eventually got  catalytic converters, vehicle airbags, and locked cockpit doors, we’re now starting to get a more secure and private Internet, too.

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