On March 10th, the messaging startup Wire added support for video calling to the app of the same name. This new feature, as the company points out on Twitter, coincides with the 140th anniversary of the first successful telephone call of Alexander Graham Bell. Wire, a Swiss company, was launched by Skype co-founder Janus Friis, as well as other Skype alumni, including Jonathan Christensen, Siim Teller, and Priidu Zilmer. Wire launched in December 2014, though it has faced difficulties amid the increasingly crowded market of competitors.
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At present, Wire has desktop clients for Windows (7 and above) and OS X (10.9 and above), as well as mobile apps for Android (4.2 and above) and iOS (8 and above). Presently, there are no plans for a Linux desktop client, but a feature-complete version of Wire is available on the web for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Edge browsers.
What can Wire do?
Wire's goal is to provide a secure, encrypted messaging platform for anyone. Manual customization of settings is not needed and the task of encryption is handled automatically. In essence, Wire aims to provide security without sacrificing features in the process. Wire is also ad-free; the company plans to monetize through forthcoming premium services. (The company itself is backed by Iconical.) Wire's interface is exquisitely designed and allows for inline sharing of data from YouTube and SoundCloud, preventing the need to change apps to view shared content.
How is Wire secured?
Wire utilizes the Axolotl ratchet for end-to-end encryption, with prekeys employed for asynchronous communication. As such, both parties do not need to be connected simultaneously for the connection to be encrypted. This is effectively a modified implementation of the Off-the-Record protocol developed by the Wire team called Proteus, which (along with other projects) is available on GitHub. Voice and video calls are transmitted using WebRTC, with DTLS used for key negotiation and SRTP used for media transport.
Wire, being a Swiss company, notes that user data is protected by EU data privacy laws. Considering the current consternation around the demands the US government is making of US-based technology companies—such as the current spat with Apple over creating a backdoor for an iPhone and the issues surrounding Microsoft and safe harbor rulings—some people have become wary of using technology offered by American companies.
Why replace Skype?
In the wake of security disclosures by Edward Snowden in 2013, The Guardian reported that Microsoft acted to break security in Skype to aid in the decryption and interception of conversations by US government agencies such as the NSA, which "tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected."
Skype is also frequently targeted by malware vendors, with the "T9000" malware package, which goes to great lengths to evade detection by antivirus systems. This malware, a variant of the T5000 package discovered by Cylance in 2013, uses an exploit in Windows handling of RTF files to transmit Skype text, audio, and video calls as well as Windows screenshots to the attackers.
In addition, Skype completely lacks support for IPv6 networking, making it an unsuitable solution for the next generation of internet networking—an increasingly pressing issue as IPv4 address blocks become exhausted.
What's your connection?
What is your go-to chat application? With the addition of video chat capability, would you consider using Wire? Have you experienced issues with Skype? Is the security of messages on either platform a personal priority? Share your experiences in the comments.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.