Messaging: Pushing the Envelope

July 31, 2020

In my lectures for the 2020 National Cyber Crime Conference, I discussed messaging as a rapidly evolving mechanism. Simple text has morphed into a viable alternative to a traditional Dark Web site. Via encrypted messaging services, individuals can join groups, locate products and services, and pay for them often with bitcoin or other digital currency. Although it is possible to compromise encrypted messages, the volume poses a significant problem for law enforcement. I pointed out that the developers of Telegram reached an agreement with Russia in order to prevent their messaging service from being blocked.

Another messaging service warrants some attention. The service is called Element. Element was formerly known as Riot and Vector, according to some individuals. The system is based on Matrix; that is, an open source protocol for real time communication. Element, like other modern messaging systems, encrypts data.

In an email from an individual who wishes to remain anonymous, the Element messaging service can interact with with other services, including the aforementioned Telegram. Is Element an alternative to Slack and similar programs like Microsoft Teams?

The answer is, “Could be.”

Slack and Teams are widely known and engaged in what may become an interesting legal tussle. Facebook, however, continues to push toward a unified messaging platform, offering features that make finding, buying, selling, and communicating a mostly one click process.

Element has the potential to become an open source alternative to encrypted messaging solutions from vendors like Facebook and Telegram.

In light of the capabilities of the US National Security Agency and the continuing efforts of the European Union to force providers to allow instream decryption, the resolution is likely to be political.

Until users of encrypted messaging services demand government respect for privacy, which is a Fourth Amendment issue in the US, governments will continue to pressure and possibly resort to what some may characterize as blackmail. The pressure may be unconstitutional in some countries and unwarranted in others.

Encrypted messaging has become the “new” Dark Web if the DarkCyber research team’s analysis is accurate. The issue is yet another one to add to the pile of contentious services for ubiquitous mobile devices.

For more information about the chat service, navigate to the Element information page.

Stephen E Arnold, July 31, 2020

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