Threema

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Threema
Threema logo.svg
Developer(s) Threema GmbH
Initial release December 2012 (2012-12)[1]
Stable release

iOS
3.0.8 (March 20, 2018; 4 months ago (2018-03-20)) [±] [2]

Android
3.41 (March 13, 2018; 5 months ago (2018-03-13)) [±] [3]

Windows Phone
2.3.0 (May 14, 2018; 3 months ago (2018-05-14)) [±] [4]
Written in Objective-C (iOS), Java (Android), C, .NET (Windows Phone)
Operating system iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Available in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish
Type Encrypted instant messaging
License Proprietary[5]
Website threema.ch

Threema is an end-to-end encrypted instant messaging application for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.[6] In addition to text messaging, users can make voice calls send multimedia, locations, voice messages and files.[7]

The Threema app can be used anonymously as it does not require any personally identifiable information, such as a phone number or e-mail address.[8]

Threema is developed by the Swiss company Threema GmbH.[9][10] The servers are located in Switzerland and the development is based in the Zürich metropolitan area. As of April 2017, Threema had 4.5 million users.[11]

History[edit]

Threema was founded in December 2012 by Manuel Kasper.[12] The company was initially called Kasper Systems GmbH.[13] Martin Blatter and Silvan Engeler were later recruited to develop an Android application that was released in early 2013.[14]

In Summer 2013, the Snowden leaks helped create an interest in Threema, boosting the user numbers to the hundreds of thousands.[15] When Facebook took over Whatsapp in February 2014, Threema got 200,000 new users, doubling its userbase in 24 hours.[16] Around 80% percent of those new users came from Germany. By March 2014 Threema had 1.2 million users.[14]

In Spring 2014, operations have been transferred to the newly created Threema GmbH.[13][17]

In December 2014, Apple listed Threema as the most-sold app of 2014 at the German App Store.[18]

Features[edit]

Threema uses a user ID, created after the initial app launch by a random generator, instead of requiring a linked email address or phone number to send messages. It is possible to find other users by phone number or e-mail address if the user allows the app to synchronize their address book.[19] Linking a phone number or e-mail address to a Threema ID is optional. Hence, the service can be used anonymously. Users can verify the identity of their Threema contacts by scanning their QR code, when they meet physically. The QR code contains the public key of the user, which is cryptographically tied to the ID and will not change during the lifetime of the identity. [20] Using this feature, the users can make sure they have the correct public key from their chat partners, which provides additional security against a Man-in-the-middle attack. Threema knows three levels of verification (trust levels of the contact’s identity). The verification level of each contact is displayed in the Threema application as dots next to the corresponding contact.

Users can make voice calls and send text messages, multimedia, locations, voice messages and files of any type (up to 50 MB per file). [21][22] It is also possible to create polls in personal or group chats.[23] With Threema Web, a client for web browsers, Threema can be used from other devices like desktop computers. Threema optionally supports Android Wear smartwatch and Android Auto. [24]

Related products[edit]

On March 20, 2015, Threema released a gateway for companies. Similar to an SMS gateway, businesses can use it to send messages to their users who have Threema installed.[25] The code for the Threema Gateway SDK is open for developers and available on GitHub.[26]

On May 25, 2016, Threema Work, a corporate version of Threema, was released. Threema Work offers extended administration and deployment capabilities.[27]

Privacy[edit]

Since Threema’s servers are located in Switzerland, they are subject to the Swiss federal law on data protection. The data center is ISO/IEC 27001-certified.[28] Linking a phone number and/or e-mail address to a Threema ID is optional; when doing so, only checksum values (SHA-256 HMAC with a static key) of the e-mail address and/or phone number are sent to the server.[29] Due to the small number of possible digit combinations of a telephone number, the phone number associated with a checksum could be determined by brute force. The transmitted data is TLS-secured. The address book data is kept only in the volatile memory of the server and is deleted immediately after synchronizing contacts.[30] If a user chooses to link a phone number or e-mail address with their Threema ID, they can remove the phone number or e-mail address at any time.[31] Should a user ever lose their device (and their private key), they can revoke their Threema ID if a revocation password for that ID has been set.[32]

Groups are solely managed on users’ devices and group messages are sent to each recipient as an individual message, encrypted with the respective public key. Thus, group compositions are not exposed to the server.[33]

Data (including media files) stored on the users’ devices is encrypted with AES 256. On Android, it can be additionally protected by a passphrase.[34]

Since 2016, Threema GmbH publishes a transparency report where public authority inquiries are disclosed. [35]

Architecture[edit]

The entire communication via Threema is end-to-end encrypted. During the initial setup, the application generates a key pair and sends the public key to the server while keeping the private key on the user's device.[36] The application then encrypts all messages and files that are sent to other Threema users with their respective public keys.[37][38] Once a message is delivered successfully, it is immediately deleted from the servers.[39]

The encryption process used by Threema is based on the open source library NaCl library. Threema uses asymmetric ECC-based encryption, with 256-bit strength. Threema offers a "Validation Logging" feature that makes it possible to confirm that messages are end-to-end encrypted using the NaCl Networking and Cryptography library.[40] In August 2015, Threema was subjected to an external security audit.[41] Researchers from cnlab confirmed that Threema allows secure end-to-end encryption, and claimed that they were unable to identify any weaknesses in the implementation. Cnlab researchers also confirmed that Threema provides anonymity to its users and handles contacts and other user data as advertised.[42][43]

Reception[edit]

In February 2014, German consumer organisation Stiftung Warentest evaluated several data-protection aspects of Threema, WhatsApp, Telegram, BlackBerry Messenger and Line. It considered the security of the data transmission between clients, the services' terms of use, the transparency of the service providers, the availability of the source code and the apps' overall availability. Threema was the only app rated as 'non-critical' (unkritisch) in relation to data and privacy protection, but lost marks due to its closed-source nature.[44]

Along with Cryptocat and Surespot, Threema was ranked first in a study evaluating the security and usability of instant messaging encryption software, conducted by the German PSW Group in June 2014.[45][unreliable source?]

In October 2014, Threema won the "connect App Awards 2014" for being the best app of the year.[46][unreliable source?]

As of November 2015, Threema has a score of 6 out of 7 points on the - now withdrawn - Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Secure Messaging Scorecard". It has received points for having communications encrypted in transit, having communications encrypted with keys the provider doesn't have access to (i.e. having end-to-end encryption), making it possible for users to independently verify their correspondent's identities, having past communications secure if the keys are stolen (i.e. implementing forward secrecy), having its security design well-documented and having completed an independent security audit. It is missing a point because its source code is not open to independent review (i.e. it is not open source).[47]

On 9 March 2017 Threema, among other instant messengers, was included into the Register of organizers of information dissemination in the Internet operated by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media of the Russian Federation.[48] According to the Russian Federal Law of 6 July 2016 No. 374-FZ "On Amending the Federal Law on Counteracting Terrorism and Other Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in terms of Additional Measures on Counteracting Terrorism and Maintaining Public Safety" from 1 July 2018 organizers of information dissemination will be obliged to retain in the territory of the Russian Federation the Internet users' text messages, voice information, images, sounds, video and other electronic messages for up to six months following the end of their reception, transmission, delivery and (or) processing (i.e. shall retain the content of communication). Organizers of information dissemination shall disclose this information to authorized state agencies that perform investigative activities or ensure national security.[49] In a response, a Threema spokesperson publicly stated: "We operate under Swiss law and are neither allowed nor willing to provide any information about our users to foreign authorities." [50]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Schurter, Daniel (13 December 2012). "Die Schweizer Antwort auf WhatsApp" [The Swiss answer to WhatsApp]. 20min.ch (in German). Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  2. ^ Threema GmbH (2018-03-20). "Threema". Apple App Store. Apple. 
  3. ^ Threema GmbH (2018-03-13). "Threema". Play Store. Google. 
  4. ^ Threema GmbH (2018-05-14). "Threema". Windows Phone Store. Microsoft. 
  5. ^ "End-User Software License Agreement". Threema GmbH. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  6. ^ Happich, Julien (23 September 2014). "Privacy gains traction with secure messaging apps". Electronic Engineering Times Europe. Retrieved 21 December 2015. 
  7. ^ "What features does Threema offer?". threema.ch. 
  8. ^ "What is a Threema ID?". threema.ch. 
  9. ^ "Threema". Google Play Store. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  10. ^ Swiss Confederation. "Swiss company registry entry for Threema GmbH". zefix.ch. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  11. ^ "Threema vs. Hoccer: Krypto-Messenger im Vergleich" (in German). 
  12. ^ Metzler, Marco (28 June 2015). "Kryptografie-App Threema: Schweizer sorgen für Privatsphäre" [Cryptography app Threema: Swiss ensure privacy]. Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 8 October 2015. 
  13. ^ a b "Im Interview: Threema". Mailify (in German). 23 July 2014. Archived from the original on 2 August 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Tanriverdi, Hakan. "Der Schlossherr". Der Freitag (in German). ISSN 0945-2095. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  15. ^ Price, Rob (18 June 2015). "Germany's most popular paid app is a secure messenger loved by millions — now it's taking on the US". Business Insider UK. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  16. ^ Dillet, Romain (21 February 2014). "Bye Bye, WhatsApp: Germans Switch To Threema For Privacy Reasons". TechCrunch. 
  17. ^ "Threema GmbH, Pfäffikon SZ". Shabex.ch. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  18. ^ "iOS-Highlights: Die besten Apps des Jahres" [The best apps of the year]. Focus (in German). 9 December 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2016. 
  19. ^ "Will my address book data be sent to your servers?". threema.ch. Retrieved 2 December 2014. [third-party source needed]
  20. ^ "What is a Threema ID? - Threema". threema.ch. 
  21. ^ "What features does Threema offer?". threema.ch. 
  22. ^ "How can I send a file?". threema.ch. 
  23. ^ Bordel, Stefan (12 January 2015). "Threema integriert Umfrage-Funktion" [Threema integrates survey function]. com! - Das Computer-Magazin (in German). Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  24. ^ "Big Update for Android". threema.ch. 
  25. ^ Iseli, Marc (28 September 2015). "US-Feldzug von Threema gerät ins Stocken" [US campaign of Threema is stalled]. Handelszeitung (in German). ISSN 1422-8971. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  26. ^ "Threema GmbH". GitHub. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  27. ^ "The messenger for organizations". work.threema.ch. 
  28. ^ "Reference Sheet Privacy and Security" (PDF). threema.ch. p. 2. 
  29. ^ "Threema Cryptography Whitepaper" (PDF). threema.ch. p. 11. 
  30. ^ "Will my address book data be sent to your servers?". threema.ch. 
  31. ^ "How can I unlink my Threema ID from an email address or phone number?". threema.ch. 
  32. ^ "Revoke your ID". threema.ch. 
  33. ^ "Threema Cryptography Whitepaper" (PDF). threema.ch. p. 5. 
  34. ^ "Are messages encrypted when they are stored on my device?". threema.ch. 
  35. ^ "Transparency Report". threema.ch. 
  36. ^ "Could you decrypt my messages?". threema.ch. Retrieved 5 July 2014. [third-party source needed]
  37. ^ "Threema Cryptography Whitepaper" (PDF). threema.ch. 14 September 2017. 
  38. ^ Zorz, Mirko (17 September 2014). "Secure mobile messaging with Threema". Help Net Security. 
  39. ^ "How long do messages stay in queue for delivery?". threema.ch. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  40. ^ "Threema Validation". threema.ch. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  41. ^ "External Audit". threema.ch. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  42. ^ "Security Review Threema: Security Statement" (PDF). threema.ch. 2 November 2015. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  43. ^ Schirrmacher, Dennis (3 November 2015). "Threema-Audit abgeschlossen: "Ende-zu-Ende-Verschlüsselung ohne Schwächen"" [Threema Audit Completed: "End-to-End Encryption Without Weakness"]. Heise.de (in German). Retrieved 21 December 2015. 
  44. ^ "WhatsApp und Alternativen: Datenschutz im Test" [WhatsApp and alternatives: data protection tested]. Stiftung Warentest (in German). 26 February 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2016. 
  45. ^ Heutger, Christian (13 June 2014). "Die Ergebnisse unseres großen Messenger-Tests" [The results of our great messenger test]. PSW Group (in German). Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  46. ^ Buchta, Steve. "Connect App Awards 2014: Das sind die besten Apps des Jahres". Connect.de. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  47. ^ "Secure Messaging Scorecard. Which apps and tools actually keep your messages safe?". Electronic Frontier Foundation. 3 November 2015. Retrieved 30 November 2015. 
  48. ^ "Threema GmbH". rublacklist.net (ru) (in Russian). Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  49. ^ "Russia's new anti-terrorist law". Dentons. 19 July 2016. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  50. ^ "Russia adds international messenger Threema to official registry". East-West Digital News. 16 Mar 2017. Retrieved 27 January 2018. 

External links[edit]