Wire open-sources messaging client, woos developers

Secure messaging apps are all the rage, and developers can now write their own open source Wire client

Wire open-sources messaging client, woos developers

Communications startup Wire has open-sourced the full codebase for its Wire app, so it's easier for developers to build their own encrypted messaging clients.

Wire open-sourced the rest of the client base that wasn't initially publicly available, including components related to the user interface, the web and native clients, and some internal developer tools. The company always planned to open-source the codebase, but didn't start out that way initially "because we were still working on other features," Alan Duric, co-founder and CTO of Wire, wrote in a Medium post.

The startup, founded by Skype co-founder Janus Friis and two other Skype veterans, Priidu Zilmer and Alan Duric, offers end-to-end encryption for all text, audio, and video conversations sent over its messaging platform. There's also a secure file-sharing component. Because the app encrypts all communications on the sender's device and decrypts them on the recipient's device, the company has no access to decryption keys or any visibility into any of the messages.

With Wire as open source, developers can now build their own secure messaging client and run it on Wire's platform.

Secure messaging apps like WhatsApp are getting more popular as users and organizations seek out easier ways to keep their communications private. Developers are looking at ways to incorporate secure messaging across a wide range of applications, including the internet of things, digital health care platforms, and connected cars. Up until now, developers interested in building out a secure messaging component to their applications had the choice of trying to roll their own cryptography and create their application from scratch or try to license it from another party.

Encryption expert Moxie Marlinspike offers Signal as a standalone app, and his Signal Protocol has been used to provide the encryption layer for other apps, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Many industries face the same challenges regarding the security and privacy of user communications, and Wire provides everyone access to a scalable, fully featured, and robust messaging platform. Users on these new open source clients would be able to interoperate with users running Wire's official clients across different platforms.

"This is all part of Wire's vision to be the totally secure and completely transparent messaging app of choice," Duric said.

The Wire community of developers and users will be able to review the code and contribute fixes and new features going forward. The Wire GitHub repository has code for the iOS client, Android client, and the native Windows client. Wire's audio, video, and signaling library is written in C/C++, then cross-compiled for iOS and Android. The company disclosed back in May that Wire relies on Proteus, its custom implementation of Marlinspike's Axolotl protocol (now renamed to Signal protocol) for end-to-end encryption. Proteus is written in Rust and is cross-compiled for iOS and Android.

The company's founders have claimed in the past that Wire's codebase doesn't have any backdoors that could let law enforcement or any unauthorized party eavesdrop on the messages. This is particularly relevant since Skype has been plagued over the years by reports of backdoors allowing law enforcement to surreptitiously monitor Skype conversations. If there are any backdoors in Wire, the idea is that the community will come across the offending code and plug it in short order.

"Transparency and community engagement is of utmost importance for any product that has security at its core," Duric said.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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