With the recent kerfuffle between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) the debate between secure and insecure devices is in the spotlight. Apple has been marketing itself as a company that defends users’ privacy and this recent court battle gives merits to its claims. Other companies have expressed support for Apple’s decision to fight the FBI’s demand, including Google. That makes this next twist in the story interesting.
Yesterday Christopher Soghoian posted the following Tweet:
Google announces new Android messaging app designed to "allow compliance with legal interception procedures". https://t.co/YiGz9NtENV
— Christopher Soghoian (@csoghoian) February 22, 2016
His Tweet linked to a comment on a Hacker News thread discussing Google’s new Rich Communication Services (RCS) client, Jibe. What’s especially interesting about RCS is that it appears to include a backdoor as noted in the Hacker News thread:
When using MSRPoTLS, and with the following two objectives allow compliance with legal interception procedures, the TLS authentication shall be based on self-signed certificates and the MSRP encrypted connection shall be terminated in an element of the Service Provider network providing service to that UE. Mutual authentication shall be applied as defined in [RFC4572].
It’s important to note that this doesn’t really change anything from the current Short Message Service (SMS) service and cellular voice protocols, which offers no real security. By using this standard Google isn’t introducing a new security hole. However, Google also isn’t fixing a known security hole.
When Apple created iMessage and FaceTime it made use of strong end-to-end encryption (although that doesn’t protect your messages if you back them up to iCloud). Apple’s replacement for SMS and standard cellular calls addressed a known security hole.
Were I Google, especially with the security debate going on, I would have avoided embracing RCS since it’s insecure by default. RCS may be an industry standard, since it’s managed by the same association that manages Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), but it’s a bad standard that shouldn’t see widespread adoption.