Remember when encrypting stuff was really hard? It kinda drives me crazy to think about how much time I wasted trying to set up encrypted OTR chat on Adium a few years ago, and now we can just download Signal or WhatsApp or Messenger and bam! Our chats are encrypted, just like that. We can even have an encrypted group chat. We’re so cyber-spoiled these days.
But calling is still a different story. Signal and WhatsApp have enabled encrypted one-to-one calls (although they’re a bit unreliable and drop regularly, at least they’re more secure) but conference calling has remained tricky because of the challenges of multi-party key management.
When you’re chatting or calling with one person, your device and that person’s device exchange keys, verifying that you’re talking to that person rather than some eavesdropper on your network. But the more people you add to a conversation, the more keys need to get exchanged, and it starts to create a mess. Cryptographers have tried to streamline the process with a few different tactics, and Wickr’s coming out with their own solution.
“For the first time, you no longer have to choose between conference calling and encrypted calling,” Wickr’s cryptographer Joël Alwen told Gizmodo. “We’re giving people the option to have encrypted and forward-secure conference calls.”
Of course, other cryptographers will want to pick through Wickr’s protocol to make sure it’s secure. The code is publicly available on GitHub for review.
Because Wickr’s business is more focused on enterprise clients than consumers—the company likes to pitch itself as the encrypted version of Slack—the new offering is only available in its Pro app, at least for now. Wickr CEO Joel Wallenstrom explained that lots of his D.C. clients have been clamouring for a way to make secure group calls and so it became a priority for Wickr. “This is customer requirement number one from Wickr professional customers,” he said. “People have needed this for a while.”
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