One of the things I try to do is find tools that enable secure communications without requiring a degree in computer science to learn. OK, few of the tools I’ve seen require a computer science degree but most people are notoriously lazy so any barrier to entry is too much. I’ve been using and recommending Wickr for a few months now because of its relative ease of use. It’s a good tool but there are two major flaws in my opinion. First, it’s not open source. Second, it requires a separate user name and password, which is a surprisingly high barrier to entry for some (I’m talking about people with little security knowledge).
For a while Android users have enjoyed Red Phone for secure phone calls and TextSecure for secure text messages. Some time ago an app called Signal was released that gave iOS users the ability to call Red Phone users but there was no app that was compatible with TextSecure. Since some of the people I talk to use Android and others use iOS I really needed a solution that was cross platform. Fortunately the developers of Signal, Red Phone, and TextSecure just released an update to Signal that enables secure text messaging.
It’s a very slick application. First of all it, along with every other project developed by Open Whisper Systems, is open source. While being open source isn’t a magic bullet it certainly does make verifying the code easier (and by easier I mean possible). The other thing I like is that it uses your phone number to register your app with Open Whisper System’s servers. That means people can see if you have the app installed by looking up your number, which is magically pulled from your contacts list, in the app. If it’s installed on your end the app will let them send you text messages or call you. There are no user names or passwords to fiddle with so the barrier to entry is about as low as you can go.
Signal isn’t a magic bullet (no secure communication tools are). For example, since it’s tied to your phone number it doesn’t preserve your anonymity. Wickr, by allowing you to use a separate user name, does a better job in that department although it’s still not as good as it could be since it doesn’t attempt to anonymize traffic through something like Tor. Messages also aren’t set to self-destruct in a set amount of time like Wickr’s messages do. But it certainly fulfills some of my requirements when talking with people who aren’t technically knowledgeable or are just plain lazy.