Improving the Security of Messaging Applications

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Technology keeps on improving, getting better, and creativity rate is increasing speedily. Security and privacy of information shared on communication apps was a challenge, but it has been overcome through the use of encryptions. These encryptions prevent any third party from accessing your messages during transit, including the malicious actors and the government. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have the abilities to prevent the third parties from accessing your messages while on transit through end to end encryption. However, with all these security measures in place, things easily take a u-turn when either the user or the device is physically accessed. So, what should be done in cases like these?

Take, for instance, you are caught by the police, and they force you to unlock your phone and reveal your messaging data. There should be a feature that can do a kind of self-destruction in the messaging apps to protect the user and the contacts. The messaging apps should have the ability to, just as the user can decide what to say to the law enforcement officers, allow the user to choose how much the phone can say. Some ‘panic button’ apps have already been developed. Apple, for example, has an emergency mode that allows you to lock the phone to biometrics. It later wipes it clean if not unlocked within a specified period. The emergency mode is activated when the power button is hit five times in a quick successive manner.

In as much as the abovementioned technology is useful, securing messaging apps are a unique case. There are various options for this security issue. Any person can voluntarily delete his or her account because time and internet connection are available, but what is more challenging and needs more work is when you are under pressure to delete your account. Another example is when you have just seconds to either protect or delete your account. Signal is, for now, the best app for this as it has a delete option easily accessible and it does not require the user to input any data, unlike Telegram and WhatsApp that need the user to input his or her phone number. Failure to correctly do this means that data will be retained.

Various improvements could be made to ensure that an emergency deletion can be performed even when the phone is not in your control. An example of this situation is when the device is seized by the police or when a user is being forced to unlock the phone. These cases bring the need for one to be able to delete the account beyond ordinary means. Some options that could work are trusted remote deletion, self destruct timer, poison PIN, and customizable panic button. Trusted remote deletion enables selected contacts to wipe each other’s sensitive information privately, no notification or questions asked. The self-destructive timer lets an app automatically delete itself after a set period. Poison PIN is an additional PIN that has specific results when entered, for example, delete apps, send pre-written messages, or clear contacts. Although this technology could be misused, it is better that it be in place.

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