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Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Uses This Messaging App to Foil Hackers

August 29, 2016, 1:44 PM UTC
Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting In New York
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 25: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting on September 25, 2013 in New York City. Timed to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly, CGI brings together heads of state, CEOs, philanthropists and others to help find solutions to the world's major problems. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)
Photograph by Ramin Talaie—Getty Images

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which has suffered a series of embarrassing hacking incidents, has finally got secure messaging religion in a big way. Want proof? Staffers are now reportedly under orders to use a special app to discuss sensitive stuff — including whenever they use the word “Trump.”

The app in question is called “Signal,” and it enjoys high acclaim in cryptography circles. Developed by lauded security Moxie Marlinspike (yes, that’s a pseudonym), Signal promises to shield text messages and voice calls from anyone who wants to listen in.

According to Vanity Fair, the Clinton campaign issued orders to use Signal in May after learning that communications of the Democratic National Committee had been compromised. (That incident led to the leak of embarrassing messages, including ones discussing dirty tricks tactics against one-time Clinton rival, Bernie Sanders).

So why did the campaign choose Signal to protect its messages going forward? One likely reason is the app’s elegant design and ease of use. Another important factor is the Clinton team’s reported insistence the tool be “Snowden-approved”—a reference to the former NSA contractor who exposed U.S. surveillance tactics and is an advocate of strong encryption.

Earlier this year, Snowden declared his own approval for Signal on Twitter:

One other reason Signal is trusted in security circles is that Marlinspike has published the code for others to inspect and verify. It also has a special feature for calls that displays a passphrase on both parties’ phones. If both people on the call don’t see the same phrase, it is a sign the call has been compromised.

Signal is not the only messaging app to promise high levels of security. The app Telegram is also popular, and even Facebook-owned WhatsApp now deploys end-to-end encryption. But for now, it appears to be the gold standard among people who care about these things.

Finally, there may be an irony in the Clinton camp’s rush to embrace encryption. The reason is that the U.S. government has been an active opponent of secure technologies, arguing device makers have an obligation in a way that law enforcement can listen in.

If Clinton becomes President, it will be curious to see if her staff still argues in favor of “Snowden-approved” standards.