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Secret message apps on the rise at work

The texts are long gone. That is becoming a more common reality in workplaces.More companies are starting to...

Posted: Dec 11, 2017 6:17 PM
Updated: Dec 11, 2017 6:18 PM

The texts are long gone. That is becoming a more common reality in workplaces.

More companies are starting to approve the use of ephemeral messaging apps like Wickr, Telegram and Vaporstream for internal communications. The tools are used for security. They can keep sensitive conversations from falling into the wrong hands by automatically deleting messages without saving a copy.

But the apps are also stirring up legal, regulatory and company culture issues.

For example, in its trade secrets fight between with Uber, Waymo claims that Uber executives used Wickr and Telegram to discuss issues central to the litigation. Uber acknowledged it used the apps, but did not elaborate on what they were used for.

Wickr lets users set messages to be deleted immediately, or after a period of time. The messages are encrypted and not stored on Wickr's servers, so there's no way to retrieve them once they're gone.

In addition to its free app, Wickr offers professional versions that give companies more control over policy enforcement and message retention.

"I think it's very clear that there's nothing explicitly unlawful about using private communication or encrypted applications," said Wickr CEO Joel Wallenstrom.

There are legitimate reasons why a company would want a communication tool that doesn't leave a trace. Employees may want to discuss their own trade secrets or sensitive deals. Email is an easy mark for cyber-criminals. It's the most common target at companies, and is often compromised through simple phishing attacks.

"In email, you need to have every conversation ... in the exact same manner as you would knowing it would be on the cover of the New York Times tomorrow," said Wallenstrom.

There's been a shift in how long companies keep emails. Policies to retain emails for 30 days are becoming standard, according to Wallenstrom. It's a major change that has been happening over the past few years, starting with the Sony hack in 2014 and accelerating after the 2016 election.

The next logical step could be companies adding a system that doesn't keep messages at all.

Related: Uber trial delayed after new evidence emerges

"It should only be used in organizations that are deeply concerned about the content of their internal communications being taken public, which I hope is everybody," said Justin Zeefe, executive director at Nisos Group, a cybersecurity firm in Virgina.

Nisos Group uses Wickr to communicate internally and with clients. Wickr has largely replaced email as the primary way to communicate inside the company. It also uses the app to talk to clients whose email or other systems have been compromised.

"There's an extraordinary amount of comfort knowing that even in a breach, our communications cannot be accessed by anybody who doesn't need to know," said Zeefe.

Because Nisos Group is a small consultancy, it doesn't have many regulatory requirements, according to Zeefe. Deleting conversations can be much trickier for other businesses.

Various federal and state laws require companies to keep messages and records for a set period of time. Many rules are industry specific. Finance companies have to save emails for anywhere from three to seven years. Health companies need to comply with HIPAA, the federal law that protects patient confidentiality. Many states require all companies keep certain employment related records for a year. Government officials have their own complicated transparency requirements.

"If you're using these kinds of applications in your workplace, you may run afoul of the law," said Stephen Wu, a Silicon Valley lawyer who specializes in information security, privacy and information governance. "There's so many of these record retention requirements that to use these apps on a wide scale on a business, you'd be risking that you'd be out of compliance."

Enterprise versions of ephemeral messaging tools give companies a way to enforce any rules that apply to them. For example, Vaporstream, a secure and ephemeral messaging product for companies, focuses on compliance tools that let companies apply existing retention policies.

Messaging companies and experts say companies should speak to their lawyers about record retention requirements before approving any new messaging tool.

If ephemeral messaging is going to shake off the stigma and go corporate, companies will have to be careful to make sure it's not abused. For some startups, that means a culture change.

"It's the responsibility of the employer to lay out the culture," says Galina Datskovsky, CEO of Vaporstream. "At least some effort needs to be made to let them know what's acceptable. When anything goes, it's a problem."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 513622

Reported Deaths: 10264
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34892556
DeSoto33234432
Hinds32638641
Jackson24854389
Rankin22507403
Lee16337242
Madison14922283
Jones14113247
Forrest13766259
Lauderdale12270324
Lowndes11305193
Lamar10659140
Pearl River9719244
Lafayette8846143
Hancock7836132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7210138
Monroe7010179
Pontotoc6990109
Warren6863178
Panola6759134
Neshoba6730210
Marshall6678141
Bolivar6445151
Union638297
Pike5928156
Alcorn5879107
Lincoln5530136
George510180
Prentiss503884
Tippah491482
Itawamba4844107
Scott477899
Adams4768125
Tate4756116
Leflore4729144
Copiah456495
Yazoo456491
Simpson4546117
Wayne443072
Covington433695
Sunflower4299106
Marion4277112
Coahoma4237109
Leake413990
Newton395781
Tishomingo383593
Grenada3777109
Stone365866
Jasper340666
Attala338290
Winston317892
Chickasaw315467
Clay312278
Clarke301195
Calhoun285049
Holmes271889
Smith269052
Yalobusha243947
Tallahatchie231553
Greene224749
Walthall221666
Lawrence218740
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster205348
Noxubee188742
Montgomery181657
Carroll174541
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152939
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134338
Humphreys131239
Franklin125529
Quitman107628
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65221
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845284

Reported Deaths: 16116
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161552006
Mobile742111380
Madison53307732
Shelby38338368
Baldwin38085589
Tuscaloosa36022641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25562263
Calhoun22586518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20018517
Marshall18782316
Houston17731425
St. Clair16884358
Limestone16148218
Cullman16054303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14989306
Talladega14196299
DeKalb12972269
Walker12030380
Blount10717192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10162194
Coffee9417192
Colbert9342208
Dale9020191
Tallapoosa7256201
Russell708165
Chilton7018170
Escambia6957143
Covington6933195
Franklin6342108
Chambers5784142
Marion5406130
Dallas5285209
Pike5119109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369580
Butler3435100
Marengo342493
Monroe337266
Randolph334867
Pickens333188
Fayette330385
Henry320666
Hale318389
Cherokee317863
Crenshaw260477
Washington257052
Cleburne254460
Lamar251453
Clay250869
Macon244864
Conecuh192862
Coosa185047
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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