Twitter Quietly Tests Encrypted Messaging

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

Hush hush at Twitter, as it secretly adds the ability to send encrypted direct messages on its Android app

Twitter could soon be the latest messaging app to displease intelligence agencies around the world as it prototypes an encrypted messaging option.

The discovery was made by Jane Manchun Wong, who found a “Secret conversation” option buried inside Twitter’s Android app.

If that option is selected, it allows users to send encrypted direct messages, and essentially will bring Twitter into competition with encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram.

data encryption

Encrypted messages

Twitter is working on End-to-End Encrypted Secret DM!” tweeted Jane Manchun Wong, a computer science student at the UMass Dartmouth.

She had discovered the DM option inside the Twitter for Android application package (APK).

APKs are how the Android operating system installs mobile apps, and they often contain code for unlaunched features and code in the most recent release. This discovery strongly suggests an encryption feature is currently being tested by Twitter.

A Twitter spokesperson has declined to comment on the matter to various media outlets.

It should be noted that Twitter currently transmits direct messages in plain text. This means these messages are visible to everyone who has access to them on Twitter’s network.

But Twitter’s decision to build an DM option with end-to-end encryption, will mean that the messages would be completely unintelligible to Twitter, or anyone else who does not possess the decryption keys.

It was reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden has asked Twitter CEO about encrypted DMs 18 months ago.

Dorsey said at the time that it was “reasonable and something we’ll think about.”

Government concerns

However, the move to encrypt direct messages is sure to trigger “national security” complaints from intelligence agencies around the world.

Governments have become increasingly hostile to encrypted apps, after a number of terrorist attacks where the perpetrators used encrypted applications ahead of the attacks.

Iran and Russia for example have blocked access to the Telegram messaging app, after it refused to give state security services access to its users’ secret messages by handing over encryption keys used to scramble the messages.

It should be noted however that WikiLeaks has previously published sensitive US intelligence data which revealed that American spy agencies such as the CIA supposedly have the ability to bypass the encryption on WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal.

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