Tech Startups Predict Encryptions To Go Mainstream
By Byron Acohido
September 18, 2013 10:04AM
Tech start-ups bet encryption will soon be
something embraced by ordinary citizens. Wickr, a free app that encrypts
text, voice and video messages, leaves no trace of your cybermusings on
servers or on the device. Start-ups Silent Circle, Koolspan and
Seecrypt offer systems that use encryption to lock down cellphone calls
Encryption is on the verge of going mainstream. In this age of corporate
cyberspies and government snoops, the ancient art of encoding messages
is something ordinary citizens will soon come to view as an essential
At least that's what several tech start-ups are anticipating. On Monday,
Wickr, a free app that encrypts text, voice and video messages, became
available on the Android platform.
Wickr leaves no trace of your cybermusings on servers or on the device.
It was introduced in June 2012 for Apple iOS. Company co-founder Nico
Sell champions a return to traditional notions of privacy, and she
advocates boycotting Facebook.
Sell wants her daughters, ages 4 and 12, to be able to freely express
themselves online without fear of being exploited or put in harm's way.
"Private correspondence is a fundamental human right that's extremely
important to a free society," says Sell. Facebook and other big Internet
companies are ostensibly advertising platforms designed to monetize
personal information, she says.
In a similar vein, start-ups Silent Circle, Koolspan and Seecrypt offer
systems that use encryption to lock down cellphone calls and e-mails.
These services are aimed at corporate executives and employees who
routinely work on sensitive projects.
"Various groups are spying, stealing information and organizing fraud
against individuals and organizations around the world," says Jon
Callas, co-founder and chief technology officer of Silent Circle.
"People see the need for defense against these threats."
These new personalized encryption services enable individuals to wrest
back ownership of their online behaviors. That's a potential challenge
to tech giants and media companies whose business models revolve around
tracking what you say, where you navigate and, with GPS, where you are
physically located. This is driven primarily to better sell advertising.
Wider use of locked-down phone calls, e-mails and messaging could slow
the current iterations of Internet commerce. But by the same token,
individualized encryption would hinder government snooping. Data thieves
and hacktivists would have a harder time disrupting Western financial
and media interests, as hacking groups from Iran and Syria have been
"It is not just the NSA with their hand in the cookie jar; the British,
French, Germans are all doing the same thing," says Harvey Boulter,
chairman of Seecrypt, a South African company. "Then you have rogue
states that are hugely active."
Corporations bear a big burden to protect proprietary assets in an environment where privacy often is up for
grabs. Individual consumers should start to think more deeply about all
the information they divulge simply by surfing the Internet or clicking a
Facebook 'Like' button.
"Every single person has private information that they most likely wish to keep private -- be it a health issue or financial data,"
says Boulter. "Like a neighborhood watch, at some point, people will
take action themselves as opposed to relying on others to keep them
Meanwhile, the soaring use of mobile devices as work tools, along with the rising use of Internet-connected
devices in everything from television sets and refrigerators to baby
monitors, add to the pressure cooker, says Gregg Smith, chief executive
conversations," says Smith. "If you're looking for a little personal
privacy in your communications with friends and loved ones, you'll need
to encrypt those messages."