You’ll soon be able to use end-to-end encryption on your laptop the same way you can on your smartphone. Open Whisper Systems, maker of the Signal encrypted messaging app, just announced that it has released a beta version of the product for desktops.
The open source application is designed to keep your messages private, even from the prying eyes of government agencies such as the NSA (National Security Agency). The company first released Signal for the iOS platform in July of 2014, and just last month introduced an Android version. The desktop client (pictured) will also allow users to switch between platforms in the middle of conversations.
Switching Between Devices
One of the advantages Open Whisper is highlighting is the ability to link multiple devices to the same account. “All incoming and outgoing messages are displayed consistently on all your devices,” the company wrote in a blog post. “Your contacts don’t have to guess where to message you, and when you switch devices the conversation you started will already be there.”
The desktop version is actually a Chrome extension, so you’ll have to download the browser if you haven’t already. Currently, only Android users are able to link their mobile apps to the desktop version, but that function will likely extend to the iOS platform once Signal Desktop is out of beta testing.
The app is free, and its source code is posted on a GitHub repository. The company said Signal Desktop will support private group, text, picture, and video messages.
Signal first started making waves when its original iOS version was released in 2014 as a way for iPhone users to make encrypted voice calls anywhere in the world without having to worry about government eavesdropping. In fact, the platform has been endorsed by no less a luminary in the privacy world than former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The platform is based on ZRTP, an encryption protocol designed to keep voice communications secure. Signal was originally designed specifically for mobile devices, using a jitter buffer tuned to the characteristics of mobile networks, and using push notifications to preserve battery life while still remaining responsive.
Open Whisper also pointed out that by publicly posting Signal and Signal Desktop’s source code on GitHub, the platform will be vetted by more security experts, who can examine the code for possible weaknesses, exploits, or backdoors. In fact, the company even makes small Bitcoin payments to users who work on the code.
Signal combined the functionality of two existing mobile apps, TextSecure and Redphone, which secure text and voice messages. Because Signal uses end-to-end encryption, not even Open Whisper has access to the content of your communications, and so can’t be forced to turn that data over to government officials. A number of secure communication apps and devices have been developed since Snowden exposed the NSA’s surveillance program in 2013, including Silent Circle and the new Blackphone.