News & Current Affairs
03 March 2015
Wickr: the secret messaging app of the party unfaithful?
Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and other politicians said to be exchanging encrypted and self-destructing messages about the Liberals’ leadership crisis
Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull and other politicians whose names were bandied about in last month’s attempted leadership spill are reported to be using a secure messaging app called Wickr.
In what may seems like a remarkable display of tech-savviness for the political classes, Turnbull, Scott Morrison and other politicians are using Wickr, the Australian claimed, to exchange encrypted and self-destructing messages about the Liberals’ leadership crisis.
So what is Wickr?
Launched in 2012 by security experts, the app functions similarly to the more popular Snapchat, but without the levity that comes with a goofy ghost logo and the thrill that comes with the possibility of being exposed to a stranger’s genitalia at any moment.
That’s not to say Wickr is all business. “Add graffiti, moustaches, top hats, black helicopters, cat masks, explosions and filters to your photos,” trills the website’s homepage.
But while Snapchat makes its missives available for up to 10 seconds, Wickr users can send text messages, pictures, videos, audio files and documents that last for as little as one second, and up to five days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
You can set and reset your “destruction” settings to any window you fancy within those parameters – but after it’s passed, the message is no longer available: to anyone, apparently.
Wickr’s chief point of difference is its security: “Forgot the phone booth – no conversations can be tracked or monitored,” the site claims. Its founders insist Wickr is as close to a private platform as one can expect in a connected world, saving no information to a server and and no data on its users.
After revelations in January last year that the personal details of 4.6 million Snapchat users had been stolen from the cloud, Wickr experienced 50% growth. At the same time, it also offered a US $100,000 bounty for anyone who could find vulnerabilities that would significant impact its users.
All messages and transactions are secured with military-grade encryption, then decrypted locally on the device targeted – making it perfect, perhaps, for drug dealers and people out to be unfaithful to either their partners or their party leaders.
Politicians seeking to protect the privacy of their own communication is a little ironic in light of their bid to pass a data retention package that would leave journalists and their sources exposed.
Twitter had good fun with the Wickr story on Monday. As one user put it: “I downloaded this app because Malcolm [Turnbull] uses it. If it’s good enough for the communications minister to hide his metadata from the attorney general then it’s good enough for me.”
It’s also good enough for Australian rapper and pizza aficionado Iggy Azalea, who featured the app in the music video for her song Black Widow last August. In February, Azalea had her personal details leaked by a Papa John’s pizza delivery man, suggesting she, like the communications minister, appreciates all too well the value of protecting one’s digital data.