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article imageFacebook announces encryption is coming to Messenger

By James Walker     Jul 8, 2016 in Technology
Facebook has begun a trial of protecting Messenger conversations with end-to-end encryption, preventing them from being intercepted by third parties before they reach their intended recipient. It will allow it to rival other encrypted apps.
Facebook is branding end-to-end encryption as "Secret Conversations" within the Messenger app. The feature is currently available to limited numbers of users. It will roll out more widely to everyone on Messenger later this summer.
Secret conversations with a contact will exist separately from regular threads. These exchanges will be protected with end-to-end encryption. They can only be read on your device and the device being used by the person you're communicating with. The encryption prevents outsiders from reading messages, including hackers, governments and Facebook itself.
While encryption helps you to stay secure, the feature does has some caveats. Because the encryption is key is stored per-device, secret conversations can only be accessed from one phone, tablet or desktop. Switching between devices will not sync secret conversations in the same way as regular threads.
There are further restrictions. Secret conversations don't support several of Messenger's most popular rich media features. You won't be able to exchange content such as GIFs and videos or make Messenger payments if you're chatting in an encrypted conversation. For these reasons, Facebook will be leaving end-to-end encryption as an optional feature, letting you choose whether to sacrifice some capabilities for increased security.
"We put people first in everything we do at Messenger, and today we are beginning to roll out a new option within Messenger to better support conversations about sensitive topics," said Facebook. "We are starting to test the ability to create one-to-one secret conversations in Messenger that will be end-to-end encrypted and which can only be read on one device of the person you’re communicating with. That means the messages are intended just for you and the other person — not anyone else, including us."
Facebook's implementation of end-to-end encryption is based on the Signal Protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems. This manages the safe storage of the cryptographic keys required to keep secret conversations secure, ensuring only you and your correspondent can read the messages you send and receive.
End-to-end encryption enables Messenger to rival existing secure messaging services, including Facebook-owned WhatsApp. Every message sent through WhatsApp benefits from encryption, implemented in a more versatile way than Messenger's secret conversations.
Rich media can be exchanged and additional desktop devices can be added to your account. Messenger currently supports none of this, leaving it behind Facebook's subsidiary from a security standpoint.
Secret conversations do have one unique ability. Users can set timers on individual messages that control how long each message will be visible in the thread. The feature appears to be inspired by Snapchat, the core premise of which is messages that can only be viewed for a few seconds.
Encryption will roll out to most Facebook users in the next few months. The company said it is "putting a lot of thought" into how best to implement end-to-end encryption without preventing people from using the Messenger features they're already familiar with. A complete switch doesn't seem to be the plan yet as most of Messenger is currently incompatible with encryption.
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