Published October 24, 2012
This message will self-destruct in five seconds … from your inbox.
San Francisco software maker Wickr has built a free iPhone app send messages that delete themselves within minutes or even seconds. Not just for the paranoid, the app gives the sender control over who can read messages, where and for how long. Only you and those you authorize can read your messages.
The company describes it like a burning wick that will leave no trace behind -- not even for forensic investigators.
The Wickr app secures your texts, pictures, audio and video with military-grade encryption during their entire life span.
The app is designed to decrease the risk of content being intercepted, improving privacy, providing anonymity and building in anti-forensic features.
From Tiger Woods to Anthony Weiner, mis-sent text message and leaked images or words have splashed all over national headlines recently, underscoring just this sort of vulnerability.
Even well-intentioned message recipients could accidentally give others access by accidental forwarding, theft or loss of a cell phone.
To prevent content from being shared before self-destruction, Wickr even disables the cut and paste tool.
It also deploys a smart mechanism requiring the user to press an icon and hold the phone steady while watching a photo or video. If there is any small shake, such as pressing the home button to take a screenshot, then the photo disappears.
While this will not guarantee that a determined recipient won’t share your stuff -- someone could, say, take an image of the screen with another camera -- it would have to occur in the very moment of receipt to betray the sender.
Wickr says it also deletes content far more rigorously from users’ phones than other services, by overwriting the content with random junk data multiple times rather than relying on the phone’s delete functionality. Forensic tools can easily defeat those by digging up would-be erased data from hard drives.
Wickr says it doesn’t read messages and that the unencrypted message content is not stored on its server; instead it provides a secure exchange between sender and recipient.
The company is not alone, however: There are a number of other apps in this self-destruct space from Snapchat and Burn Note to Tigertext. They tend to encrypt messages in transit leaving them more vulnerable to snoopers, however.
Wickr is designed to use strong AES and RSA encryption schemes to scramble the messages so that even Wickr’s own servers never see an unencrypted version of the images, videos or text, and in fact don’t possess the keys to decrypt the encrypted content users send.
Now available worldwide in 156 countries, Wickr hopes to release an Android version soon.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.