In the wake of several high-profile incidents related to cybersecurity, the European Commission has instructed its staff to switch to Signal messaging app for public instant messaging. However, it will not be used for all communication.
Encrypted emails will be used to send non-classified but sensitive information, and classified documents use tighter security measures still. Signal, meanwhile, is intended to be used for external communications between staff and people outside the organization.
In early February, an official instruction had been placed on internal messaging boards to notify employees that “Signal has been selected as the recommended application for public instant messaging.”
This EU’s move has been taken to increase the security of its communications. A few months ago, BuzzFeed News reported that the EU’s embassy in Moscow had been hacked and had information stolen from its network.
After that, The New York Times also reported that in a period of 3 years EU’s diplomatic communications had been hacked several times. According to official statements, that case showed “an extremely poor level of protection”.
A cybersecurity research firm Area 1 Security found that a huge number of diplomatic cables were downloaded from the EU’s COREU (or Courtesy) system, which is used by EU institutions and national governments to send or receive day-to-day information on foreign policy.
This is not the first time when a governmental body has instructed its staff to switch to Signal. A few months ago, The Guardian reported that the Conservatives (UK’s ruling party) had instructed its MPs to switch to the service from WhatsApp. It is rumored that this was ordered due to Signal’s message disappearing feature. But the party said that this was because its recent influx of newly elected MPs meant that it had exceeded WhatsApp’s maximum group size.
Thanks to Signal’s end-to-end encryption and open-source technology due to which it is favored by privacy activists like Edward Snowden.
A cryptography expert at the University of Leuven Bart Preneel said, “It’s [Signal] like Facebook’s WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage but it’s based on an encryption protocol that’s very innovative.” He added, “Because it’s open-source, you can check what’s happening under the hood,”.
Signal, developed in 2013, is supported by a nonprofit organization that has the support of WhatsApp co-founder ‘Brian Acton’, who had left the Facebook (acquirer of WhatsApp) after clashing with Facebook’s management.
Privacy experts consider that Signal’s security is superior than other apps’. It cannot read messages and listen to calls and not even anyone else can. Though WhatsApp uses Signal’s protocol but it is not open source. Signal does not store message metadata and does not use cloud storage to back up messages.
For secure messaging, Signal has introduced a bunch of security features like ‘message disappearing’, ‘screen lock’, ‘incognito keyboard’, ‘sealed sender’ etc. To make it user friendly, Signal has also announced support for stickers about two months ago. Since then, more than five thousand sticker packs have been uploaded.