Ephemeral text app Wickr to launch secure video calling in 2014

Wickr, an app for sending encrypted and self-destructing messages, is set to launch video calling capabilities next year that could provide a more NSA-proof service than Skype.

Released in 2012 for Apple iOS devices, the ephemeral messaging app was designed so that people could send text messages and files that no one but the intended recipient could see -- ever.

That’s thanks to a feature that lets the sender set a self-destruct command to video, text or images; where and what type of encryption it uses; and that wipes messaged data on the device and at its own servers, which makes it difficult for law enforcement to request data from the company.

The US start-up – co-founded by Nico Sell, an organiser behind the Def Con security conferences – produces one of the private messaging apps that have benefited from public concerns over government surveillance following the release of documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Now the company is planning to tackle video calling with a service that is set to take on Microsoft-owned Skype.

According to sources of the Financial Times, Wickr has raised additional funds from Gilman Louie, who formerly headed CIA VC fund up In-Q-Tel to launch the voice/video calling service.

For people concerned about surveillance, the new feature could provide a more private alternative to Skype.

According to Guardian reports based on Snowden’s leads, Skype video was more difficult to access for the NSA until July 2012, after Microsoft had cooperated with the agency to facilitate access that provided analysts with a more “‘complete’ picture” of persons of interest.

Sell told FT.com that the FBI had asked for a backdoor to the product but thanks to the company’s scrubbing practices it could not cooperate.

Over the past year, Wickr has integrated Dropbox to let users send self-destruct documents from the file hosting service and recently rolled out in beta on Android.

It’s not clear how the company has implemented its video calling service, although to protect messages and files sent between Wickr users, it employs “perfect forward secrecy” in its Android and iOS apps – encryption techniques adopted last week by Twitter, which implemented data encryption on its web and mobile platforms that, in its case, were based on two short-lived keys that cannot be later recovered even with the knowledge of the server key.

Wickr explained its methods here: “Wickr uses Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) by ensuring our encryption keys are unique, used only once and then forensically destroyed. Each message is encrypted with its own unique key. Our servers do not have the decryption keys.”

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