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Facebook Messenger Tests End-to-End Encryption

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Playing catch up? Facebook tests encrypted “secret conversations” after last month’s security scare concerning chats

Facebook has begun testing “Secret Conversations” within its Messenger app that will also include end-to-end encryption.

It comes after rivals to Facebook Messenger already offer the security-related feature in their products.

Limited Testing

Facebook revealed that it was carrying out “limited testing” of the Secret Conversations function in a blog posting. It said a wider rollout would take place later this summer.

Facebook insisted that calls and messages on Messenger were already secure thanks to the fact that it already “uses secure communications channels” as well as its “powerful tools” to help block spam and malware. But for the end-to-end encryption it is using the Signal Protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems.

facebook messenger group chat“We’ve heard from you that there are times when you want additional safeguards – perhaps when discussing private information like an illness or a health issue with trusted friends and family, or sending financial information to an accountant,” it said. “To enable you to do this we are starting to test the ability to create one-to-one secret conversations in Messenger that will be end-to-end encrypted and which can only be read on one device of the person you’re communicating with.

And it seems that Facebook is including a Snapchat like feature in these ‘Secret Conversations’, as the user will be able to set a timer to control the length of time each message remains visible within the conversation.

“Starting a secret conversation with someone is optional,” said Facebook. “That’s because many people want Messenger to work when you switch between devices, such as a tablet, desktop computer or phone. Secret conversations can only be read on one device and we recognise that experience may not be right for everyone.”

And it warned that these private messages at the moment will not be able to support rich content such as GIFs, videos, or even making payments.

Security Scare

Facebook recently revealed that 900 million people are now using Messenger worldwide, along with 50 million businesses. The app however is still behind its WhatsApp subsidiary, which has more than a billion users.

WhatsApp also took the lead in April this year when it switched on end-to-end encryption across all its services. It should be noted however that WhatsApp had already supported end-to-end encryption on its Android app since November 2014.

And last month Facebook Messenger was at the centre of security scare, after Check Point researchers discovered a dangerous vulnerability in the site’s code that could have opened up its chat apps to criminals.

Both Facebook Messenger and the site’s browser Facebook Chat service were affected by a flaw which could have allowed hackers to essentially take control of any message sent with only a basic level of knowledge of HTML coding.

In doing so, hackers could have been able to modify a message’s content, distribute malware and even insert automation techniques to outsmart security defences, according Check Point.

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