Wire Wants to Bring Encrypted Chat to Cars and the Internet of Things

July 22, 2016, 5:56 PM UTC
Secure communications service Wire
Secure communications service Wire

Encrypted communications services have been gaining popularity since Edward Snowden first made his revelations about mass surveillance years ago. Now the technology may go mainstream—and get easier to deploy—within industries such as health and automotive.

Wire, a private communications firm set up by a bunch of Skype veterans, has fully open-sourced its technology. That means anyone with enough skill can build their own app around the company’s source code, letting users conduct encrypted text, voice, and video conversations with users of Wire and other apps built with the same code.

According to Alan Duric, Wire’s chief technology officer, the move has two main objectives: transparency and building an ecosystem of secure services that can talk to one another.

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Previously, Wire had open-sourced its core technology to let security experts poke around and check there was nothing fishy going on in there. Now, Duric told Fortune, “in order to remove any other suspicion, we open-sourced everything.”

The newly open-sourced code covers Wire’s user interface, so others will be able to more easily design new apps with secure messaging, voice calling, video calling, group calling and file transfer features. Duric said there is scope for organizations to design Wire-based apps that are tailored to different use cases, such as enterprise communications and digital health, and even automotive and the Internet of things (the buzz-phrase for the growing ecosystem of Internet-connected devices).

“What’s important is that it doesn’t require any phone number for registration,” Duric said. “You can register with email and it doesn’t require mobile.” He also pointed out that the apps don’t need to be interoperable, though federation at some point would be nice. “It’s a shame we have so many islands in the communications space,” he added.

Wire, which is headquartered in Switzerland and has an engineering base in Berlin, isn’t the only secure communications firm helping others to join the end-to-end encryption party. The current industry giant in that domain is Open Whisper Systems, whose Signal protocol is responsible for making WhatsApp secure. The same technology is gradually finding its way into Facebook Messenger (FB) and Google’s (GOOG) upcoming Allo app.

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Earlier this year, Wire and Open Whisper Systems had a legal dispute regarding Wire’s use of Open Whisper System’s code in its own protocol, but that blew over after Wire withdrew a suit it had filed.

As things stand, it looks like the two projects could serve complementary purposes: Signal helping secure the big players, with Wire powering a new wave of secure communications apps that could one day federate—something Open Whisper Systems does not want to do with its own technology.