Since becoming prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has been pushing for a more forward-thinking cabinet. In fact, he recently told industry minister Christopher Pyne to just get innovating, and he’ll cover the costs later.
His latest tech push is for his Cabinet’s to use Slack — one of the world’s fastest growing enterprise apps.
The work-based chat application, created by the co-founders of Flickr and worth more than $US2.8 billion, has taken off with startups and corporations since it launched in February 2014, growing at an exponential pace to service 1.1 million daily active users (DAUs).
Turnbull wants his party members to use the app to communicate about confidential government matters, according to The Australian.
But the service isn’t necessarily any more secure than the official parliamentary email server currently in use.
Earlier this year the company, which has its messages transmitted offshore via a server located in one of Amazon’s data centres in Virginia, confirmed the app had been hacked over a period of four days in February and “there was unauthorised access to a Slack database storing user profile information.”
Beyond this specific breach, there have been other controversial occurrences. For instance, any company that uses Slack can find their sub-domain via Google. This means that if an attacker wants to know whether a company is using Slack a quick Google search will reveal the answer. More on that here.
But Slack isn’t the first online messaging service with contentious security concerns that the prime minister has been known to use.
At the beginning of the month it was revealed Turnbull was still using Wickr, a secret messaging app that allows users to send encrypted messages to each other which self-destruct after being read.
In response to the allegations a spokesman for the PM said: “Many MPs and Ministers use private messaging systems — including SMS, WhatsApp, Wickr, etc. and private emails etc — for non-sensitive material for reasons of convenience and superior functionality.
“The majority of Government correspondence is routine and of a non-sensitive nature and is therefore not subject to sensitive security markings.”
The Australian Signals Directorate has told the prime minister that the sharing of unclassified and non-sensitive information was permitted on non-government devices and systems, such as Wickr.
So what is the cost to taxpayers?
Slack runs a simple business model. It has a free package for small teams or unlimited evaluation, as well as standard and plus packages, charging users $US6.67/month and $US12.50/month, respectively. More than 300,000 of the 1.1 million DAUs are paying customers.
The business has long advertised itself as a “freemium” product, where an unlimited number of users can access the product before upgrading and paying for a more robust package with better features.
However, there are limits for free use. Once a single channel hits 8,462 it stops accepting new users. But we don’t expect the cabinet will run into this problem.
Slack recently advertised for two Melbourne-based “Customer Experience Agents”, igniting speculation the company could be ramping up its local operations.