Secure messaging: So hot, it’s crazy

secure messagingYou know a market is heating up when even John McAfee is willing to brave the black helicopters and international assassins long enough to raise his head to endorse one.

McAfee, the fiercely eccentric founder of an anti-virus firm that bears his name, lent his credentials to a fledgling app called Chadder late last week. A press release from McAfee’s newest firm, Future Tense Secure Systems, said FTC had released the app in partnership with its developer, Etransfr, of Rochester, N.Y.

“Chadder is an unprecedented messaging platform. We have developed this highly secure system with an extraordinary team of developers at the prestigious Rochester Institute of Technology,” McAfee said in the statement. “Chadder is a fun and easy-to-use messaging app that happens to keep your communications private. So private that we can’t see it ourselves”

It’s difficult to tell from the pre-beta release of Chadder, but the app appears to work by reducing an encryption key to a four-digit number that is shared only by the sender and the recipient. Chadder manages the full key and handles the transfer of the encrypted message.

Etransfr’s Facebook page includes a promo video for the app (done in that whiteboard-as-animation style that really needs to go away already).


“The social media industry is built around the consumer also being the product. Chadder is here to prove that young people want privacy just as much as adults do,” said Alexis “Lexi” Sprague, a standout student at RIT and founder of Etransfr. “It is about giving privacy and control back to the user without scaring them off with complicated log in and messaging processes. There needs to be a balance between usability and privacy.”

Sprague and her team managed to get Chadder past Google’s famously rigorous screening process where it is now available on Google Play. The download page features a disclaimer: “This application is in beta! We published it quickly and there is (sic) not a lot of features.”

Early reviewers of the Android seem to agree, panning the app for its crude interface, its inoperability and the lack of an easy way to delete it once installed. The App is also available in the Windows Phone Store and an IOS version is due for availability on ITunes in the coming weeks, Etransfr folks said.

But this story is bigger than Chadder and even John McAfee. That anyone would take McAfee’s endorsement seriously four years after selling his security company to Intel Corp. and becoming notorious for decidedly insecure things is a testament to the white-hot interest in secure messaging apps of late.

A steady drumbeat of hacks and data breaches coupled with surveillance paranoia in a post-Snowden world has given technology users pause about even the most mundane of personal communications. Nearly every solution provider we talk to says they are having some kind of conversation about privacy and communications security with their clients.

If Chadder seems to come up a bit short, there’s plenty of other options to choose from, each with their own quirks and foibles. This is hardly a comprehensive list, but by way of sparking the conversation, a few alternatives for solution providers to consider are:

BlackBerry Messenger. It’s the granddaddy of secure messaging apps and since February it’s been available to users of devices other than BlackBerry (Read: everyone). While BBM set the standard, its single-key schema seems dated among the new class of secure messaging tools, and the parent company’s propensity to cooperate with law enforcement and government has soured some of the hardcore privacy advocates on its use. Still the first app that comes to mind in the space, however.

TextSecure. From Whisper Systems, makers of the private call app Red Phone. Provides basic, encrypted text messaging in a mature and well-tested interface that’s intuitive and can auto-detect the encryption capabilities of the recipient in order to provide a seamless user experience. Available for Android.

CyberDust. One of a growing list of so-called ephemeral messaging apps (others include  Frankly and Confide) that do for texts what Snapchat did for photos. The Mark Cuban-backed CyberDust combines basic encryption with the promise that all messages are irretrievably deleted in 30 seconds. Still requires a leap of faith on the part of the user to feel comfortable that the message is not saved by the service or the recipient. Available for iOS, Android version coming soon.

Babel. Developed by OKSystems, this SMS app for Android and iOS provides strong, end-to-end encryption designed to keep messages secure and private even if the device is lost or stolen. No servers to impinge on the secure transmission with Babel. Just straight, scrambled SMS from point to point. User friendly and professional grade.

Tiger Text. A combination of encryption and ephemeral capabilities in an app built specifically for the enterprise and focused mainly on the health care vertical. Nice design and features, but the real hook for Tiger Text is its business-class ability to tie into BYOD policy management and its demonstrated compliance with regulations such as HIPAA, SOX, FINRA and others. Available for iOS and Android. The name means “secret” in Swedish. This app is still under development, but early looks at it indicate it’s on track to be the best looking app of the bunch. Its functionality is more a matter of marketing spin at this point, but the app is being purpose built with security in mind and it appears to have all the bases covered. If nothing else, it sure looks Ikea-like pretty. Will be release for Android and iOS.

The list could go on. But the point is clear. Secure messaging is no longer a celebrity luxury or a tool for the mischievous.

Regular business folks are increasingly concerned about keeping their day-to-day communications private and eradicating the digital record of anything that can be pilfered and taken out of context years from now. It’s an important part of an overall security and risk management strategy and it’s a prime opportunity for partners.

Chadder may not be the answer. In truth, the perfect secure messaging app probably hasn’t been built yet. But credit John McAfee for this: He’s turned our attention to something of real importance to channel partners and their charges. There’s nothing crazy about that.

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