|Initial release||June 2012|
|Operating system||iOS, Android, desktop|
Wickr (pronounced "wicker") is the name of a proprietary instant messenger for iOS and Android and of the company that produces it. Wickr allows users to exchange end-to-end encrypted and self-destructing messages, including photos and file attachments.
- 1 History
- 2 Operation and security
- 3 Goals
- 4 Competition
- 5 Users
- 6 Reception
- 7 Warrant canary
- 8 Public audits
- 9 Mavericks surf competition
- 10 Personnel
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Wickr, founded in San Francisco, has five cofounders: Nico Sell, Robert Statica, Chris Howell, Kara Coppa, and one unknown. Sell is co-chairman of Wickr along with Gilman Louie. Mark fields is the current CEO of Wickr, and Nico Sell serves as CEO of the Wickr Foundation. Wickr co-founder Nico Sell has claimed that despite no security system being completely safe, Wickr is the best currently available. In addition the company's motto is "Leave No Trace". Audits by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and by major security firms have given Wickr high marks for its security. Sell, who criticized the FBI for sending an agent to request she install a backdoor entry into Wickr software, reportedly takes pride that Wickr was designed by the world's best cryptographers and that it stores absolutely no data on its users. The firm has spent years developing the "most fleeting" message available to all text and messaging users, stated Time Magazine, noting that messages are instantly scrambled with military-grade encryption abilities and have individual decryption keys, so that no message ever is left in a data server along with thousands of other message files.
After it was revealed in January 2014 that information belonging to 4.6 million Snapchat users had been stolen, Wickr experienced 50 percent growth. Inc.com suggested in July 2014 that the use of Wickr was spreading so quickly that it could potentially become a part of network infrastructure. Sell has said that her goal is to have millions, or even billions, of people around the world to use the free messaging-app," but Time Magazine expressed doubt in February 2014 about the potential breadth of Wickr's appeal, but also stating that even if the vast majority of messaging users do not begin using Wickr, it will always have a market among the security- and privacy-conscious, and those who may become so in the future.
The self-destruct part of the software is designed to use a "Secure File Shredder" which "forensically erases" all files to be discarded on a particular device. However the company uses a proprietary algorithm to manage the data, a practice which is prone to error according to many security experts. On January 15, 2014, Wickr announced it is offering a US$100,000 bug bounty for those who find vulnerabilities that significantly impact users. In addition, a recipient can in general use other software and techniques like screen-capture capabilities or a separate camera to make permanent copies of the content.
Wickr was launched in 2012. Sell told Fortune Magazine in 2014 that she and her colleagues believe that private correspondence is a fundamental human right that cannot be violated and will be the most significant human right during the next century. Sell prides herself on championing what she considers to be the same principles the Founding Fathers were adamant in establishing in the United States that have allegedly faded today. She added that while that even though many Americans today complain they are living under an Orwellian state, there are places all over the world with much stricter controls and that all persons around the world deserve the right to private correspondence.
Sell takes an unorthodox position on authority structure, saying that if her employees do what needs to be done, the rules can be broken. Accordingly, Wickr does not require employees to be in the office under a traditional work environment so long as they get their work done. She has stated "You can work from the Bahamas. I don't care what you're doing, as long as you get your work done."
It was reported on January 28, 2014, that in its latest round of funding, Wickr had raised $30 million from several investors including CME Group (CME), responsible for the Chicago and New York mercantile exchanges.
On March 3, 2014, Wickr announced that it had completed a round of funding that brought in $9 million. The funding was led by Gilman Louie of the venture firm Alsop Louie Partners. Gilman Louie was the former CEO of the CIA's venture arm, In-Q-Tel. Other investors include Thor Halvorsssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation; Juniper Networks; the Knight Foundation; and former U.S. government counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke. Wickr said that it planned to use this capital to further develop its standalone messaging app as well as its business model, which includes a pro version of the app for premium users. It also suggested the possibility of licensing its encryption technology to "third-party groups." The new round of investors also included Steven Bestalel, Eileen Burbidge, Gerhard Eschelbeck, John Hering, Paul Kocher, Jeff Moss, Mark Patterson, Terren Peizer, Shawn Rubin, Adrian Steckel, Joel Wallenstrom, Amit Yoran, the venture capitalist Jim Breyer, and the firm Wargaming, a developer of online games.
In May of 2015 Nico Sell was promoted to Co-Chairman of Wickr and CEO of the new non-profit Wickr Foundation. Mark Fields of CME assumed the position of CEO of Wickr. The Wickr Foundation will advocate secure communications among groups like children, human rights activists, and journalist. Wickr will target businesses for a white-label service for profit.
Operation and security
Wickr, Sell states, was made to ensure encryption and security were easy and transparent for all users. Sell is adamant that Wickr saves no information to a server, does not keep any data on its users, and that all messages and transactions are encrypted without any way to decrypt. She further stated that she intentionally did not want to keep a database that had to be protected due to fears it would eventually be leaked.
Users of Wickr can set a message to remain on the app for any amount of time ranging from three seconds and six days, with default life configurable in the settings. User information is stored directly not on Wickr servers but as encrypted "representation". Messages can only be read on the recipient's device. Max Eddy for PC Magazine reviewed Wickr, stating it was easy to use while still being secure, and described it as the most secure messaging app for Android.
In addition to text messages, Wickr users can send pictures, video, or audio, and in the iPhone version can also send PDFs and images from cloud services. An update allows users to manipulate images in a wide variety of ways – to draw on them, crop them, superimpose text, and so on. The screenshot function is disabled in Wickr, so that messages are securely locked within the app. Messages that are unread or undelivered are automatically deleted, and cannot be recovered using digital forensics techniques. Using the File Shredder feature, users can also delete all their messages and overwrite them with junk data. Wickr is designed in such a way that even if its servers were compromised or seized by authorities, there would be no way to decrypt anything. Data is secured by AES 256 and ECDH521 encryption, as well as by RSA 4096 encryption, which as of mid 2014 was being phased out.
The Wickr system uses cryptographic hashes of telephone numbers and email addresses to locate other users through comparisons. Wickr is never in possession of any email addresses or phone numbers. This solution avoids the problem of messaging apps gathering huge amounts of personal data when they document users' contact lists in order to find more users. Moreover, an update referred to as "recent" in Eddy's July 2014 article maintains a strict focus on privacy, while scanning address books to look for new Wickr users. The default "black list" setting on Wickr allows a user's device to receive messages from anyone, but the app can be switched to "white list" mode, whereby one can receive messages only from authorized contacts.
Asked about the danger of decryption by the NSA, Sell replied that her team at Wickr had acted under the assumption that the NSA had broken all their math. Wickr uses open-source encryption, but with each message bound to the specific device, so that if anyone, NSA included, cracked a message, they could not read it. She added that in addition, they make every one of their users anonymous, which is a unique feature, while also using perfect forward secrecy, meaning that "every message or piece of data has a different key. And since every user is anonymous and every piece of data has a different key, if someone wanted to get ahold of one conversation, they would have to break millions and millions of messages." Wickr uses the same technology used internally by the NSA, called NSA Suite B Compliance, their standard top-secret communications usage. While the NSA has yet to break this encryption algorithm, they remain confident that even if they did they could not view messages.
Wickr's desktop application was released in late 2014. Similar to the original software, it allows for end-to-end encryption for all data transferred between computers.
Wickr announced in January 2014 that it would pay up to $100,000 to anyone who could find a vulnerability in its app that could critically jeopardize the confidentiality or integrity of its users' data.
Sell told Wired in 2014 that Wickr's objective is to provide secure private messaging to everyone around the world and offer new platforms for the financial and gaming industries. She also stated that "Wickr's mission is to become the go-to communications platform for text, email, calling and video conferencing." Sell stated her belief that email and messaging will eventually merge.
Sell told CNN Money in June 2014 that her goal is to have Wickr running all financial transactions of the world. According to CNN Money, Sell looks forward to seeing Wickr operating as the backbone for transactions at major banks and stock markets. Inc.com has stated that Wickr's long-term goal is to replace the business model major tech companies depend on.
In addition, Sell has told CNN that one aim of Wickr was to protect children from the "permanence" on the Internet. She has said that she founded Wickr to create a tool for her daughters to communicate securely and anonymously with control over what information is retained.
Wickr's developers, reported PC Magazine in July 2014, have plans to introduce in-app purchase features, including saving messages beyond the current lifetime maximum.
Wickr has announced its plan to release private international video calling within the year to compete directly with Skype. This would also use end-to-end encryption where only the active users had access to the particular call, destroying any digital record upon the conversation's end.
Sell has said that Wickr's most significant challenge is its competition with viral growth apps, which, she maintained, control the market by accessing users address books and SMS history to spam all contacts and get them to download the app; a process that generates tremendous growth. However, Sell feels this is an improper way to treat Wickr users. She said that Wickr's growth was slower, but she believes that users will have more loyalty to Wickr since their data is protected and private.
Sell has said that she wants Wickr to replace both Facebook and Skype and establish a new market for thousands of device apps running directly off Wickr software. In addition, Wickr seeks to be an alternative to Snapchat and other free international texting tools such as WhatsApp. CNN noted in 2013 that companies like Google and Facebook are not invested in protecting their users' personal data since they profit from selling private data to sell targeted ads. Wickr's business plan, by contrast, does not use any user data. Although the app is free, it plans to eventually profit from in-app purchases, such as paying to keep a message received in the app permanently.
Sell is critical of major social media and messaging companies due to their privacy policies that force users to give up ownership of anything they post.
In July 2014, Sell criticized Facebook for its lack of privacy, stating her belief that the company did not uphold privacy, but instituted control and ownership of user data.
Venture capitalist Jim Breyer, an early investor in Facebook who has since also invested in Wickr, has suggested that Wickr does not necessarily seek to compete with these services but could offer an improvement of its underlying security platforms. He added his belief that Wickr and Facebook are potentially compatible, considering where Facebook aims to take its messaging systems. He affirms that there is room for Wickr to supplement and enhance all message utilities, Facebook included.
Sell turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook to buyout Wickr.
Wickr launched the Wickr Timed Feed (WTF) in early 2015 for iOS operating systems. It allows for photos to be posted on Wickr for up to 24 hours which in turn can be posted to Facebook. The photos are encrypted and can only be seen by those a user has intended to let see. To those who have not been granted permission, images of cats appear instead. Users can grant permission for up to 151 other persons to see for up to 24 hours. After this period the photos then self-destruct with no trace being left, with the photos never having been in the possession of Facebook. Sell has commented that using the Wickr platform more for social media would bring it into competition with Instagram.
Inc. noted in 2014 that while Snapchat was settling with the Federal Trade Commission for its alleged 'deceiving' of users by claiming their data was not kept on company servers, Wickr offers a "perfect forward secrecy" software.
Sell has said that the difference between Wickr and Snapchat is Snapchat was designed by enterprising college students in a few months, whereas Wickr took ten encryption experts a year to develop. She has also said that Wickr's secure file shredder avoids several problems faced by other self-destructing messaging apps, since it is "continually running in the background."
Bruce Schneier of CNN wrote in March 2014 that Wickr avoids the problem faced by companies that store user data, such as Lavabit, which shut down its service rather than obey a secret NSA court order to turn over its encryption key, and Microsoft, which in 2011 altered Skype "to make NSA eavesdropping easier."
Wickr has begun developing its own private international video calling to be released within the year. The end-to-end encryption would allow only active users in the particular call would have access to the conversation and any data would be destroyed upon the calls termination. Sell is critical of Skype for keeping data on its users and claiming ownership of all conversations and seeks to provide more privacy for users in this regard.
As of March, 2014, Wickr was processing over 1 million messages per day with recipients in 190 countries. The New York Times reported on that date that after Snapchat was breached, Wickr had a fifty percent increase in user sign-ups, and that the previous week, when researchers questioned the security of WhatsApp, Wickr grew 600 percent in usage. The Times noted that one of those who had begun using Wickr instead of WhatsApp was Amit Yoran, former head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, who reportedly made the switch due to WhatsApp's lack of transparency regarding its security and privacy policies.
CNN Money noted in July 2014 that Wickr's automatic deletion of emails and other sensitive files should make it attractive to the finance industry, noting that while the Securities and Exchange Commission requires accounting firms to retain audit records for at least seven years, firms often neglect to destroy those records after the seven years are up. Sell has called these records that are forgotten "hazardous waste" for a company. Wickr platforms might also be used for "securing the communication that initiates millions of dollars of trades" and keeping chats between brokers and traders a secret.
Sell has said that she expects Wickr to protect all global financial transactions someday, and incorporate the Wickr technology into anywhere it can add value, including servers, routers, or phones. Sell told Inc.com in July 2014 that Wickr signed one of the largest gaming firms and one of the largest companies in the finance industry and that she was negotiating terms with at least one carrier.
The Financial Times reported on August 25, 2014, that Wickr was working with major financial firms, including Markit, to develop an alternative to Bloomberg instant messaging. Wickr, according to the newspaper, was developing an app with CME Group that would allow both chat and financial transactions between financial traders. The planned app "would undercut Bloomberg while creating a more secure service which automatically deletes messages that regulators no longer require financial services to keep, removing the risk of storing information for longer than is necessary." According to Sell, financial services firms should not trust tech companies to create a messaging service since they profit from selling data. Sell told FT in August that Google and Facebook will not build systems in this fashion since it is not in their interest to delete data.
In March 2014, Bruce Schneier noted that messaging apps such as Snapchat and Wickr, which advertise that any photos or messages used through the app will only be accessible for a very temporary period, were increasingly popular, especially with young people, and represented an alternative to social media such as Facebook where everything posted is virtually permanently stored. Schneier described these apps as "the first concerted push against the permanence of Internet conversation." Noting that many teenagers immediately delete the posts they make while using Facebook, Schneier explained that Wickr-type apps "just automate the process."
Human rights activists and whistleblowers
Thor Halvorssen, president of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, has stated that many human rights activists and whistleblowers depend on Wickr to communicate human rights groups safely. Halvorssen also believes Wickr could allow for a world where anyone can enjoy the right of privacy, which, he states, will have huge implications for freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, and human rights activism. Halvorssen noted that he communicates often with people in areas where governments or companies are monitoring or tracking all activity. Halvorssen, who ended up investing in Wickr, stated: "Viber, Skype, WhatsApp, email--all those platforms are penetrated….I see it every day. The Venezuelan state television plays people's Skype conversations on TV!"
A December 2012 article at the PBS website entitled "Data Security 101 for Journalists" cited Wickr as a key tool for secure communications. A 2013 article reported that there is anecdotal evidence to suggest the app is used by human rights activists, lawyers, and journalists.
In March 2015 Australian media reported that a number of members of parliament were using wickr. They included Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. There was speculation that this may have been related to a leadership challenge in the Liberal Party following an unsuccessful spill motion against incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott in February 2015.
PC Magazine named Wickr an "Editors' Choice for Android secure messaging." Max Eddy of PC Magazine described Wickr as "a fantastic service for sending secure, ephemeral messages. Wickr was also named "best overall messaging app" by PC Magazine, beating WhatsApp, Snapchat and Google.
Wired compared Wickr favorably with its chief competition, Snapchat, stating that the latter had proved in early 2014 "to be neither self-destructing, nor all that secure," while Wickr, by contrast, promised "military-grade encryption." According to Wired, Wickr's security exceeds the NSA's standard for its own secret communications.
Wickr is one of a small number of service providers that have issued "warrant canaries." A warrant canary is a method by which a communications service provider informs its users that the provider has not been served with a secret United States government subpoena. Wickr's warrant canary reads as follows:
- As of the date of this report, Wickr has not been required by a FISA request to keep any secrets that are not in this transparency report as part of a national security order.
Wickr was the first messaging app to offer a warrant canary to its users.
Andrea London and Kyle O'Meara of the forensics firm Stroz Friedberg reviewed Snapchat, Facebook Poke and Wickr data storing on iOS and Android phones to see how much data is left behind, and presented their findings at Def Con in Las Vegas in August 2013. The only one of the apps that passed the test was Wickr, which appeared to keep its promise to "leave no trace". O'Meara stated that Wickr uses its high-level encryption as advertised and that in his forensic analysis there were "no artifacts left behind", meaning there was no digital trace left.
In a 2013 report on Wickr, Veracode gave it high marks for what it called its "assurance level" and commented that Wickr exceeded all security standards in the Veracode Risk Adjusted Verification Methodology.
Aspect Security, Inc., was engaged by Wickr to conduct an Application SecurityAssessment of the Wickr iOS, Android, Desktop Client, and Server applications in July 2014. Aspect reportedly spent 240 work hours using several data tools, source code analysis, penetration testing, and probes into missing, broken, or improperly used application security controls. In addition, they examined cryptographic architecture and implementation to search for any weaknesses in Wickr security that would allow for a third party to access unencrypted messages of a user. Aspect concluded that Wickr's applications evinced strong and thorough security features using competent and advanced cryptographic algorithms, and that there were "no weaknesses in the latest version of Wickr software that would allow Wickr or a third party to gain access to unencrypted user messages."
In 2014, the security firm iSEC Partners tested two assertions about Wickr, namely that it provided excellent End-to-End data encryption and that it contained "No Backdoors," and concluded that both assertions were true.
A 2014 report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that graded service providers on their protection of user data from government requests gave Wickr a score of 5 out of 6 on the following criteria: "Requires a warrant for content," "Tells users about government data requests," "Publishes transparency reports," "Publishes law enforcement guidelines," "Fights for users' privacy rights in courts," and "Fights for users' privacy rights in Congress." Wickr lost a point because it has not defended users in court; however Wickr has not had this opportunity.
On November 4, 2014, Wickr scored 4 out of 7 points on the EFF's secure messaging scorecard. It lost points because users couldn't verify contacts' identities, the code is not open to independent review (i.e. the code is not open-source), and the security design is not properly documented. On January 5, 2015, the EFF updated their scorecard to reflect that Wickr updated its software to allow users to verify contact's identities by exposing key fingerprints, which can be done out-of-band or using in-band video, raising Wickr's score to 5 out of 7 points. As of January 5, 2015, the code is still not open to independent review and the security design is not properly documented.
In June of 2015, the EFF gave Wickr a perfect score for user privacy.
Mavericks surf competition
Wickr sponsored the WickrX Super Sessions; a three-day surfing competition that draws some of the best female surfers from around the globe. The event is compiled into a video using GoPros. The first instance of this event was held in December 2014.
- Nico Sell is the firm's Co-Founder and Co-Chairman. She has a bachelor's degree in government (with a focus on nuclear strategy) from Dartmouth. She is a self-described hacker (described by one source as a white-hat hacker). and is the organizer of the world's largest hacker conference, DEF CON. According to Fortune Magazine, Sell has supported security education for youth and runs a camp for children and teenagers at the annual Las Vegas Def Con conference to teach white-hat hacking. She is also the co-founder and CEO of nonprofit organization r00tz which teaches kids to hack for 'good'.
- Sell has a strong sense of personal privacy, keeping details of herself and her family private. The Wall Street Journal noted in June 2014 that Sell "carries black business cards with no phone number or email address, refuses to say her age and wears sunglasses in photos to thwart facial-recognition technology." Inc.com called Sell "part of an idealistic but ambitious movement in Silicon Valley looking to flip the switch on how we live and share and do business online. These entrepreneurs see the status quo--in which users have signed away the rights to their data and online existence to Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, and a few other supremely powerful companies--as not just a violation of privacy but also as fatal to innovation." Sell told Inc.com that she considers herself a "venture catalyst" and said she had invested in over 20 security companies.
- Dan Kaminsky, a hacker and security advocate, served as a technical advisor to Wickr and endorsed its encryption applications, reported Forbes in June 2012. Kaminsky has stated: "To the extent modern technology can provide, they've gone out of their way to set up key generation and management so that they're never in the middle, and to ultimately destroy messages in a way that prevents recovery from the phone's memory….The social expectation with Wickr is that messages are going to be deleted. People need the freedom to communicate without their words coming back to haunt them."
- Gilman Louie, a venture capitalist who formerly worked with the CIA to develop its In-Q-Tel program, provided series A funding in the amount of $9 million. Gilman had also been a developer for many video games including Tetris. Louie has pledged to invest $100 million in security companies.
- Jim Breyer, venture capitalist, who has previously been on the boards of Facebook, Dell, and Walmart along with several other successful firms, joined the Wickr board and provided the second round of funding at $30 million. Sell has stated that with Breyer's joining, Wickr now has the resources to "build the most trusted communications system in the world." Breyer has been repeatedly ranked as the number 1 investor in the world.
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