In November of 2016, reputable human rights organization Amnesty International, with over seven million members worldwide, released a research paper on the lack of end-to-end encryption offered by today’s social media platforms and mobile messaging applications.
Researchers at Amnesty International discovered that some of the most widely utilized messaging applications including Skype, Snapchat, Tencent’s WeChat, Telegram, KakaoTalk and Facebook Messenger either did not have end-to-end encryption support at all or failed to set end-to-end encryption as default.
The report of Amnesty International read:
“Our communications are under constant threat from cybercriminals, malicious hackers, and unjustified spying by state authorities. Young people, activists and journalists who share personal details over messaging apps are especially at risk. Many of us trust these apps with intimate details of our personal life. Companies that fail to take basic steps to protect our communications are failing that trust.”
Since the report of Amnesty International was released, the demand for end-to-end encryption increased. In fact, users began to switch to applications such as WhatsApp, iMessage, Line and Viber that have end-to-end encryption set as default.
In a recent interview, Nathan Freitas, the founder and director of the Guardian Project, stated that the demand for end-to-end encrypted calls have also risen significantly over the past few months, after Wikileaks and other cyber security research firms released the tools utilized by NSA to surveil on calls and messages of US residents.
Similar to end-to-end encrypted chat, encrypted calls aren’t vulnerable to government wiretaps or security breaches. It allows users to transmit information on a peer to peer basis without the possibility of surveillance and leaking of data. However, researchers state that end-to-end encryption is difficult to offer for P2P calls because it often hinders the quality of calls and requires a substantially higher level of bandwidth.
Since 2016, leading messaging and communication apps such as Whatsapp, Wire and Telegram have allocated their resources in perfecting end-to-end encrypted calls without affecting their quality. Some organizations including Signal have open sourced their technologies, similar to how bitcoin developers open source their software, to encourage other platforms to implement end-to-end encryption. Some of the largest messaging applications across the world including WhatsApp have introduced end-to-end encrypted calls based on the base protocol of Signal.
“There’s so much happening right now in this space which is really exciting. In 2012 there was just Skype basically. Google Hangouts didn’t even exist. FaceTime existed kind of. So we’re really happy when there’s so much public innovation that includes privacy and security,” said Freitas.
Currently, developers and organizations including the Guardian Project are looking into methods that could allow users to engage in cross-platform encrypted calls using an open communication standard. With such infrastructure in place, users of WhatsApp for instance, will be able to engage in an encrypted call with a landline user or with a user of Telegram.
Since the majority of the abovementioned messaging applications with the exception of WhatsApp have introduced end-to-end encryption based on a private protocol or codebase, it is not possible to make cross-platform encrypted calls at the moment.
Freitas and his team at the Guardian Project’s OSTN experiment are focusing on the development of an open communication protocol with end-to-end encryption for calls by default. With the utilization of interoperable communication standards, developers of the Guardian Project hopes to soon introduce a shared base protocol and codebase which social media and messaging applications can rely on to provide necessary privacy features and encrypted services to their users.