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In Age of Email Hacks, Startup Brings Secure and Encrypted Chat to Businesses

October 25, 2017, 9:31 AM UTC

There are skeptics who argue that the traditional email that most of us use every day has become such a tool for hackers that it’s too risky to use for business. They point to the hack of accounting and consultancy giant Deloitte as only the most recent example of this problem.

Count the Berlin-based chat start up Wire as one of those naysayers. Launched in 2012 by Janus Friis, Wire has offered encrypted chat messaging to consumers for some time and as of Wednesday is moving into the corporate market with a product that it says provides secure chat, voice, as well as file- and screen-sharing capabilities to workgroups. (Friis has experience with messaging: He was a co-founder of Skype, the popular Internet voice calling application that Microsoft (MSFT) bought six years ago for $8.5 billion.)

The new Wire business edition enables secure one-on-one or group calls and can support group chats with up to 128 people, Friis said. Users can set up messages that expire and disappear after a certain amount of time.

Related: What is Secure Messaging and How to Use It

“The important thing with end-to-end encryption between the sender’s device and the recipient is that the encryption keys never leave the device. You don’t have to trust any party in the middle,” he said.

Janus FriisCourtesy of Wire.
Courtesy of Wire

Real-time messaging offers advantages over traditional email, according to Alan Duric, Wire’s CEO, another Skype veteran.

“Even secure email providers like Protonmail or Tutanota can only guarantee full security when both sender and receiver are using the same service,” Duric said (ironically), via email. “There’s a danger that people think their emails are encrypted but that’s not the case if they contact someone using a different email provider.”

Google (GOOGL), for example, said three years ago it was adding end-to-end encryption to Gmail, but early this year turned that effort over to the open-source community. Gmail data is encrypted at rest—meaning when it is sitting on a server—while Gmail-to-Gmail messages are encrypted in transit,

Reached for comment on how Microsoft Outlook 365 deals with end-to-end encryption, a spokesperson referred to a support page outlining the steps users need to take to enable encryption.

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The paid business version of Wire adds administration tools, priority support, and other features not available in the free consumer edition. If an employee leaves the company or workgroup, the admin can revoke that person’s privileges.

Michela Menting, digital security research director at London-based ABI Research, says Wire has managed to build tight security in a product that is very easy to use. “Security is already a barrier to usage, so making this easy is important for adoption,” she said. The fact that it supports all the major mobile and desktop devices is also important.

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Workgroups can try the Wire Teams version free for 30 days. Then it will cost €5 (or $6.88) per user per month. A higher end Enterprise edition, which lets customers host their own Wire software, will be priced by the deal.

Note: (October 25, 2017 3:28 p.m. EDT) This story was updated to add Microsoft comment.