US Congress members urged to communicate using encrypted apps

The encryption used by communications apps such as WhatsApp is stronger than those of phone networks, says ACLU

Congress members and staff are being urged by a civil rights group to use encrypted smartphone apps such as WhatsApp and Signal rather than traditional cellular networks.

Unlike cellular networks which use weak and outdated encryption, some of the newer apps use strong and modern encryption to protect their customers' communications, the American Civil Liberties Union has written in a letter Tuesday to officials in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

The move is not going to cost a lot. Many members of Congress already have smartphones and the apps like Signal and WhatsApp are free and can be easily downloaded from app stores. Besides, Apple’s FaceTime and iMessage apps are already built into Apple’s iOS mobile operating system and thus are available to every member or staffer with an iPhone, according to ACLU's letter to Frank J. Larkin, Senate Sergeant at Arms and Paul D. Irving, House Sergeant at Arms.

"Ensuring the security of Congressional communications against all interception—whether by foreign governments, criminals, or even other branches of the U.S. government or rogue Congressional staffers — would promote both basic liberty interests and national security," the civil rights group said.

A widely-used cellular encryption algorithm, known as A5/1, is widely used today in U.S. cellular networks, but it was designed in the 1980s, and was broken by cryptographers in the 1990s, according to ACLU.

But in the same way that Bank of America and Google can deliver their Web sites securely to customers over insecure public Wi-Fi networks, smartphone apps protect the audio and text communications of their users through the use of strong encryption even if the underlying cellular network is vulnerable to interception, according to the letter.

Congress' ability to oversee the President and the administration "is only as robust as its independence from interference by other elements of the government, and its insulation from influence by bad actors outside government," the ACLU said.

The letter comes against the backdrop of compromises of government websites by hackers, including the breach of the computers of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which exposed sensitive details of millions of federal employees. In March, the White House issued a directive that all publicly accessible websites and services of U.S. agencies will have to use HTTPS encryption within two years.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about AppleBank of AmericaFaceTimeGoogleHouse of Representatives

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by John Ribeiro

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place