Photo: Kevin Smith/Business insider
In the age of social networks and oversharing will there ever be an opportunity to keep our information private?As the internet grows the short answer to that question may be “no,” but luckily there are people like Nico Sell and Dr. Robert Statica who have created an incredible app called Wickr.
Wickr’s mission is to provide a free and easy way for anyone to Leave No Trace. Wickr messages are private, encrypted and clear of metadata.
Wickr quadruple encrypts your messages whether they are pictures, video, voice, or text. The self-funded, messaging app offers military-grade encryption and self-destruct capabilities.
Wickr was designed to protect sources in hostile zones but has now pivoted into a consumer app. Before Wickr it took an entire IT department to help people talk to sources without getting them killed.
Wickr is ad free, and has anticipated vulnerabilities that leave no trace for advertisers, corporations, or online hackers to track personal data. No ads, no fee, and fewer security concerns.
Sell and Dr. Statica have years of experience with privacy and security, in fact Sell has started over 20 security companies over the past two decades. Sell also helped to run DEF CON, a yearly hacking conference and both she and Dr. Statica believe that communications should be untraceable by default.
The following is a lightly edited conversation we had with Nico Sell and Dr. Robert Statica.
Business Insider: What inspired you guys to come up with an app like this, why do you think its necessary?
Nico Sell: We believe that private communication is a universal human right and is extremely important in a free society. We’re here to defend that human right. We have users in over 100 countries around the world and I think when we look right now there is a huge messaging war going on between Apple, Google, and Facebook, all trying to own digital human interaction. These companies are offering 4 features that we’re gonna flip on its head.
First, the information you give to these companies is traceable, it lives forever, receipt controlled, and shared with strangers. I don’t have anything to hide and that’s fine but do you want control over the messages you’re sharing with others? Everyone says yes to that, but at the big level what we’re offering is communication that is untraceable, has a time limit by default, and not shared with strangers.
BI: So theoretically if I use this app, there is no way the phone carrier could trace back what I sent?
NS: No one else can see the message except the person you sent it to and on the device you sent it. So even if someone was to try to intercept there’s nothing they can do with it. It doesn’t touch servers except your phone. We’ve taken standard encryption and found a really great way to make it easier to use.
DS: First of all, the account that you create is anonymous to Wicker. It is cryptographically encrypted. If I was to look at the database I can’t find anything close to Kevin because everything is camouflaged in a way the naked eye can’t see. There are no encryption keys for your message, it bounces off the server. Even if someone steals your password or message they can’t decrypt on another device because the hardware information doesn’t match. We generate our own hardware IDs that scramble and hash hardware information.
Information is anonymous to everybody, including the company. We just know there are two accounts that are created.
We also don’t store any information, we don’t know who’s talking to who and we don’t know who you are. There is no information that will help anyone.
BI: Who do you see as your competition?
NS: I would say Snapchat, What’sApp, and also Kik at this point. In the future we’re going after unified messaging.
Wickr is 100 times better than Snapchat because you can send longer messages, up to 6 days, it’s secure, anonymous, and private. Much more full featured.
Next year our competition will be more like Skype. What Robert has built is a protocol, one day people will be able to integrate our technology into other apps.
BI: What are your favourite features of Wickr?
NS: The fact that we clear metadata from all the pictures you send, consumers have no idea that they are leaving these trails and those location trails are the most dangerous. That’s when we start talking about stalkers and thieves.
DS: Another important feature is that in a traditional encryption program you have to share keys and password, putting a password on a pdf file, we eliminated that from the equation. We made it easy to use and transparent for the user, type a message and press send and we take it from there.
Besides clearing the metadata like Nico mentioned we have a secure file shredder which pretty much takes care of everything else.
Any thing deleted from your phone via the app is shredded to pieces, if you delete a SMS and somebody steals your phone they will be able to recover it, but if you’re using Wickr, we shred all those files and leave no traces. It’s also a good feature to use before you sell your phone instead of resetting to factory defaults if you use this shredder you’ll be able to make sure none can recover. That’s another great feature that nobody has.
When you first fire up the app you'll be asked to let it send you notifications, this is so you can receive messages other Wickr users send you.
When setting up an account its important to keep in mind that it may take a few minutes. You can't leave the app during the set up process otherwise you'll have to start over.
Choose a WickrID (this is how others will contact you) and fill out all of the other information like picking a password.
While the service sets up your account you can read a bit more about what exactly is going on. Because a lot of security is involved it may take a few minutes.
This is also where all of your conversations will appear. To send a new message tap the write button in the bottom left corner.
When you tap the button all the way at the top left of the app you'll see the main menu. This is how you can navigate the app to get to settings, check your ID, and log out.
As you compose a message you have the option of setting how long you want that photo to last on your device and you're friends. You can choose anywhere from 10 seconds to as long as 8 hours. If you don't want a certain message to self-destruct you can choose that option too. Tapping edit in the top right corner will allow you to delete select messages or all of them.
Picture messages display only by tapping the camera icon at the bottom. If you're thinking can't you just screen shot it? The answer is no. It was very hard to screenshot a picture because the photo disappears once you remove your finger from the screen.
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