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The use of encrypted messaging has been on the rise the past few years after Edward Snowden’s revelations on how the NSA & GCHQ are recording all our calls, texts, and emails. And actually, when most people think of online security, they most typically think of that as meaning your need to protect your PC from malware, not simple communications.
As a result several encrypted messaging services have risen to fill the need for private conversations. Probably the most effective and best known messaging service is Signal by Open Whisper Systems. Signal looks like any other messaging app on the surface, and basically works the same. But if you message another Signal user, then that message is encrypted end-to-end. That means your message cannot be read if intercepted along the way.
In fact, Snowden recommends that most all business and government communication be encrypted in some form. Signal is currently considered the best app for that purpose.
But now, in an effort to help fill that need, Microsoft’s version of Skype is testing out a new feature called Private Conversations that delivers end-to-end encryption to your chats.
The encrypted communication channel works for both audio and text messages as well as file transfers, but not video calls. Microsoft is using the Signal Protocol to secure the data, but for now, you can only use this feature with contacts that are participating in the Skype Insider Preview.
If you do start a Private Conversation, the contents of those chats will be hidden from the chat list and notifications will be turned off as well.
On one hand, this is an excellent new feature for Skype but on the other, why did it take so long to arrive? Many other chat services have offered this functionality for some time and further, they encrypt all chats not just one specific type of conversation. Microsoft has not announced a date for full rollout of the encrypted service yet.
This is a good start for Skype but what I do hope to see is that they make all messages and audio calls encrypted by default rather than being opt-in. Seeing as it is in beta today, this may become a reality but Microsoft has yet to acknowledge if they will go down this path.
Private Conversations are available now to Skype Insiders using Skype version 220.127.116.11 for iOS, Android, Linux, Mac, and Windows Desktop.
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