Privacy messaging tool Wickr adds Dropbox integration

The latest version also adds video messaging, synching and a secure way to search for other friends or contacts

Wickr, a mobile messaging application that electronically shreds communications, has added the ability to send documents from Dropbox, leave video messages and a more secure way to search for other users of the application.

The latest version, 1.9, is due to be released on Apple's App Store on Monday. Wickr has been designed to tackle the problem of protecting people's private communications so that no one but the intended recipient will ever be able to see a message.

Wickr allows people to send encrypted messages with an expiry date ranging from a few seconds to a few days. The message is then scrubbed from the phone by overwriting its data. Wickr's servers only see encrypted data when sending the message, and even Wickr's servers are scrubbed of that unreadable data.

The application is intended to provide a much greater degree of privacy in an era where companies such as Facebook and Google retain massive amounts of user data. "Whether it's a subpoena or a hacker or a nation state -- there a lot of people trying to get that data," said Nico Sell, one of Wickr's founders. Wickr, based in San Francisco, has applied for a patent for how it securely communicates.

The free application was released last June, and Sell says it has hundreds of thousands of users so far. The latest version includes a host of performance enhancements and improvements to the user interface, in addition to some key features.

Whereas before the application could just send text messages, Wickr now allows people to send documents or video from the file-storage services Dropbox, Google Drive and Box. For example, people can send a PDF to their colleague and set self-destruct time. Sell said it is particularly useful for people who send highly sensitive PDFs, such as in health care or law.

In another improvement, Wickr has developed a way for people to connect with other Wickr users, but with a much stronger degree of privacy, said Robert Statica, a Wickr cofounder and an information technology professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Many social networking applications offer the ability to scan a person's contact book in order to find other users. But that often means the service provider also has a copy of a person's address book. Wickr avoided doing the same thing since it infringes on users' privacy, Sell said.

But Wickr found a way around the problem. It creates a cryptographic hash of information from a person's address book and then compares that to other encrypted address book information to link users. Since the data is encrypted, Wickr has no idea who is connecting, and the data would be useless to a hacker. The feature is, however, for users who do not mind if other people find out they are using Wickr.

"What we realized is the majority of our consumers don't care about being anonymous," Sell said. "They want to be connected with their friends, but we wanted to do it in a way that doesn't abuse your contacts books."

Other new features include the ability to auto-login into Wickr, which lets user decide if they want to lower the security bar a bit but use Wickr in a way that is as fast as an SMS application. It also has a synching feature that lets people use the same Wickr account across several iOS devices. But as a security precaution, if a message is opened on one device, it is not accessible from other devices on the same account, Statica said.

Wickr eventually plans to roll out paid-for premium features later this year, such as the ability to send larger files and leave longer message. Voice messages in the free version are limited to 30 seconds, and file is limited at 5MB.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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