Sometimes, it feels like the only way to have a private conversation these days is to plan for a clandestine meeting out in the desert.
If only our phones came with built-in text-messaging encryption to help ease our fears.
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That's the idea behind CyanogenMod's encrypted text-messaging feature. The developers behind the custom version of Android announced today that a future version of its custom operating system will enable always-on, end-to-end text message encryption between users, essentially keeping the conversation strictly between you and the receiver.
To make this feature a possibility, Cyanogen partnered with Open Whisper Systems, the team behind open source apps like TextSecure, which secures texts and phone calls. "We want everyone to have access to advanced secure communication methods that are as easy and reliable to use as making a normal phone call or sending a normal text message," Moxie Marlinspike, co-founder of Open Whisper Systems, wrote in a blog post.
The encryption feature will work with any text-messaging application, just as long as both parties are using CyanogenMod or Open Whisper System's TextSecure, which can be downloaded by any Android user regardless of whether or not they're employing CyanogenMod. If either parties aren't communicating through secure means -- for instance, one person is sending a text message from a regular version of Android -- then the text will be routed through as a normal SMS.
These days, it's hard to find any native texting applications that are capable of encrypting text messages. Apple iMessages, Google Hangouts, and even BlackBerry Messenger aren't secure enough to keep your conversations private. Open Whisper, on the other hand, utilizes perfect forward secrecy, which generates a new key for every message that's sent. So, if one key is compromised, only that one part of the message will be seen.
The algorithm used to encrypt the text messages was also developed independently from the one built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), since that was weakened by the NSA.
What's behind the announcement
Monday's announcement is likely a ploy from Cyanogen to get more users on board so that it might meet its goal of becoming the number three mobile operating system. Regardless of whether or not the company succeeds in converting new users is another thing entirely, but Cyanogen's encrypted text-messaging abilities hopefully will influence other mobile companies to follow suit, especially with the recent wave of backlash against the major technology giants for failing to protect their users.
Cyanogen has begun testing the build that contains the new encrypted text-messaging features. Once it's ready, it will be deployed in all CM11 builds moving forward.