Why We Need End to End Encryption For Online Communications

Riot.im
Riot.im
Mar 8, 2017 · 4 min read

For many of us, using some form of online communication to connect with our friends, family and coworkers has become habitual, convenient and second nature. We share a lot of information about ourselves and speak our minds without considering the consequences of having our conversations and data end up in the hands of others, such as government officials, hackers, hosting servers etc. This includes anything from personal photos, sensitive data such as credit card numbers to confidential information about clients within work correspondence.

Online communication has created a convenient and simple method for us to communicate. It offers the instant gratification we all know and love by hosting conversations in real time whilst also including fun features that enhance the quality of our conversations such as emojis, stickers, voice notes and video messaging, to name a few. These qualities can sometimes cloud our judgement when choosing our preferred online messaging platforms. These fun additions plus generally conforming to what your social crowd use often leads us to prioritise convenience over cybersecurity concerns.

Lets take a step back, we hear the term end-to-end encryption being thrown around but actually what does this mean? End-to-End Encryption ensures that all data is encrypted at all times, not just in transit and at rest. There is massive amount of online data that is being sent, shared, and stored and end-to-end encryption prevents unwanted access by decrypting all messages from the sender’s end to the receiver’s end without any encryption gaps along the way. Otherwise in addition to hackers, service providers and online applications hosting conversations can have access and collect data.

Users today are utilising online communication platforms that are not always secure, since some are not sufficiently end-to-end encrypted giving hackers more opportunities to gain access to data and leak sensitive information. Statstica.com shows us the most popular mobile messaging apps being used in the world (based on monthly active users). Facebook messenger for example is the second most popular messaging platform and encrypted messages are only secure when they are en route between a user’s device and company servers where they are stored. This means Facebook might have to hand over private messages if required by law.

With billions of online communication users, there’s bound to be greater instances of hacks, leaks and privacy infringements. We’ve seen this with celebrities who have been victimised by hackers that exposed naked pictures or private conversations that were exchanged by email or stored online, such as iCloud. Last year one hacker successfully managed to get his hands on naked pictures of over 30 celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, and leaked them on the internet. Likewise, David Beckham is currently facing his own email scandal known as “Beckileaks.” Beckham’s emails were leaked to the public and allegedly stated that his philanthropic efforts were part of a plan to receive the honor of knighthood. If true, these emails can hinder his charitable reputation and ultimately the Beckham brand. Politicians alike are also targeted by hackers who often go for classified information from emails, for example Mike Pence’s, the Vice President of the U.S., personal email that was also used for business affairs was hacked.

Celebrities and political figures are obviously not the only ones vulnerable to hacks and unwanted exposure within online communications, although these are the scandals we hear about in the press more frequently. Various online messaging platforms for all users are not always equipped with sufficient end-to-end encryption and pose vulnerabilities. For this reason, ensuring that our online communication platforms are secure and have end-to-end encryption should be a priority for all of us. Vulnerabilities that can arise from unsecure communication platforms can take place anywhere from email and online storage to social media and instant messaging. Without end-to-end encryption, any data shared including the content of conversations, log in locations/times, pictures, telephone numbers and videos are saved on a server and can be found floating on the web putting us at risk.

In order to avoid the many unwanted cybersecurity situations witnessed (and hopefully not experienced), we should pay more attention to what online messaging platforms we use, what we say and who we share our information with. Be sure to check that your preferred communication platform has top notch end-to-end encryption, and think twice before clicking the ‘agree’ button on the fine print disclosure given right after downloading messaging apps. With many communication platforms and social networks available to select from, we can be proactive about which we choose in order to protect ourselves and those we communicate with.


Have a great week.

Ben

Join Riot.im today for a better way to communicate with your colleagues, friends & family. Riot is an open source messaging app which has deep functionality such as; end to end encryption (currently in Beta), video & VoIP calls, file transfer, integrations, bridges and most importantly its currently free!

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