Is the CIA investing in Wickr’s encrypted communications platform?

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According to a report from Vice Media’s motherboard, In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit investment firm established by the CIA, recently made a transfer of $ 1.6 million to the messaging platform. encrypted Wickr. In-Q-Tel was established in 1999 as an organization “to assist the CIA and the wider US intelligence community (IC) to identify, adapt and deliver advanced technologies that meet national security needs” .

The transfer of In-Q-Tel, which is said to have taken place before Amazon bought the company, also followed last year’s contract with the US Air Force for Wickr to provide its recall app, from alerting and messaging (Wickr RAM) throughout the US DoD.

With this July 2020 contract, Wickr would expand its services to the three main departments of the DoD, while expanding to provide secure communications to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force with encrypted file, video, chat, text and voice services for end users.

“Providing secure communications to the tactical edge and more on government and personal devices for data up to IL4 FOUO to include PII and PHI dramatically improves situational awareness and enables commanders to have decision-making data. more comprehensive, ”Dan Skinner, head of federal operations at Wickr, said at the time the deal was announced.

Mandatory criteria

To meet DoD security requirements, Wickr RAM used comprehensive administration and compliance controls. The Air Force contract named Wickr RAM as a DoD-approved Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) certified application suite, as well as a Federal Risk Management and Clearance Program (FedRAMP). These were imperative criteria to be taken into account when selecting a collaboration service that guaranteed the highest levels of security for nationally recognized government entities.

The company also noted that Wickr RAM, the self-hosted end-to-end encrypted collaboration platform designed for and accredited by DoD, is also the only collaboration service with full functionality that was able to meet all the criteria. Security Agency of the National Security Agency. (NSA). Wickr RAM is also a fully managed service provider certified by Air Force Cloud One and Air Force Special Operations Command.

In June 2021, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that it had acquired Wickr, but so far it seems not much has changed with the company.

“Wickr already has a decent user community, and it’s rare for it to be a US-based end-to-end encryption platform,” said Dr Vahid Behzadan, assistant professor at the United States. Tagliatela College of Engineering at the University of New Havre

CIA investment

As Motherboard reported, it’s not explicitly clear whether the $ 1.6 million paid to Wickr was for an investment in the company or for the purchase of a specific product, but Behzadan told ClearanceJobs that the latter was unlikely.

“While I’m not sure how the budget is allocated, I imagine it could be used to cover development and maintenance costs, but not on the deployment side,” he explained. .

As to how the CIA might use the platform, Behzadan said it would likely be used to expand how the agency connects with assets overseas. Those in the DoD and the Intelligence Community (IC) can already use Wickr in an unofficial capacity, and while this has likely expanded since the Air Force contract, the CIA could use the end-to-end encryption platform. end to communicate with its assets. worldwide.

“It’s a way for them (the CIA) to improve communication with American assets around the world,” Behzadan said.

Trade product

One question to ask is why the CIA – let alone the NSA or the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – wouldn’t develop its own platform that is not so “off the shelf”. However, this may be where Wickr fills a void. Instead of agencies having to worry about incompatible platforms, Wickr RAM would be universally compatible, without being too visible.

“Anyone and everyone can have access to it,” Behzadan said. “If anyone is seen using it, it wouldn’t necessarily be a sign that they worked in the intelligence community. Most importantly, it can be used and viewed anywhere in the world, and it can be downloaded by anyone on any smartphone.

The other question with a standard program is whether its encryption would be strong enough for these CIA assets.

“Trusting encryption is a budget issue,” Behzadan told ClearanceJobs. “The question is how much budget is needed – how much time and energy does it take. In the case of Wickr, it can be very expensive to break it, and that’s why the CIA may be interested.

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