You have almost certainly used an instant messaging app at some point. In fact, you probably use one on a daily basis, and it is highly likely you use apps like Facebook Messenger—which is neither secure nor private.
Fortunately, secure alternatives that keep your messages private, and don’t collect or sell your personal data, exist. Wickr is among their number. So, what is Wickr, and how does it work? Is Wickr safe? How does it compare to other encrypted messaging apps?
What Is Wickr, and How Does It Work?
Wickr was developed in 2012 by a group of cybersecurity and online privacy experts based in New York City. The app was released on iOS first, and then on Android, while the Windows version hit the market in 2014. Wickr is now available on all aforementioned platforms, plus Mac and Linux.
There are three main versions of Wickr: Wickr Me, Wickr Pro, and Wickr Enterprise.
Wickr Me was designed with individuals in mind, but it allows both one-on-one and group messaging (no more than 10 members), one-on-one audio and video calling, as well as file sharing. Wickr Pro is meant for businesses, so groups can have up to 500 members and up to 70 users can participate in audio and video calls, and share large files. The highly-customizable Enterprise version offers additional features and is best-suited for large organizations.
The Basic version of Wickr is free. Silver, Gold, and Platinum respectively cost $4.99, $9.99, and $25.00 monthly per user.
Wickr Security: How Safe and Private Is This App?
At a glance, Wickr looks, feels, and works like pretty much any other messaging app: it allows users to exchange text messages, photos, videos, and files. But scratch below the surface, and you’ll find a robust and complex Zero Trust cybersecurity infrastructure, with advanced cryptography and abundant security features.
Wickr is 256-bit end-to-end encrypted, and uses multiple layers of encryption to protect user data and privacy. Messages, files, audio, and video calls are all encrypted locally—a new, random key is used each time. Only the public key is transmitted to Wickr’s servers, while the private key is stored on the user’s device.
In other words, if you send a message via Wickr, no one will be able to read it, except the person you are communicating with (no, not even Wickr has access to your messages). So, if a cybercriminal were to target your Wickr account, they would need to have literally all the time in the world to break in, because it would take them trillions of years to decrypt just one key.
Even if you know nothing about encryption, Wickr’s protocol sounds bulletproof, but arguably just as crucial in terms of security is the fact that all messages sent via the app are ephemeral; they disappear and self-destruct. You can choose when. More importantly, Wickr’s Secure Shredder destroys them in such a way that they can never be recovered or viewed again.
Of course, Wickr also utilizes ordinary (for want of a better term) security mechanisms, such as multi-factor authentication and screenshot detection. Wickr does not collect user data or store communication metadata. It does collect some telemetry data, but even this can be disabled in the settings.
To use the Basic version of Wickr, you don’t need a phone number or an email address. All you need to do is download the app, come up with a unique username and password, and that’s it. Obviously, you will not be able to recover your account if you lose your password or username, but you can always create a new one.
As mentioned above, the other versions of Wickr are paid-for, so you will need to provide the app with some personal information to use them. But if you do opt for Silver, Gold, or Platinum, make sure you use a secure email service to sign up and maintain your privacy.
Transparency makes all the difference when it comes to privacy-focused software, and Wickr excels in this regard. The app is not open source, but its crypto code is available on Github too. On top of that, Wickr allows third-party audits and sends out transparency reports. The reports, dating back to 2013, are available on the app’s official website.
Wickr also runs a rather generous bug bounty program, so if you manage to find any security holes or vulnerabilities in its systems, you may be paid up to $100,000.
And then there’s the issue of user base, or lack thereof. Around five million people have downloaded Wickr from Google Play. In comparison, WhatsApp has recorded more than five billion downloads on the same store. Your friends probably haven’t even heard of Wickr, let alone used it, which defeats the entire purpose of having a messaging app on your phone.
Still, there is certainly a market for private and secure collaboration platforms.
How Does Wickr Compare to Other Encrypted Messaging Apps?
There would be no point in comparing Wickr to mainstream messaging apps, since it’s obviously safer and much more private than any of them. But how does Wickr stack up compared to other secure, encrypted messaging apps?
Signal and Telegram have become very popular in recent years, while apps like Wire and Speek are starting to make their mark. But what Signal and Telegram have, and Wickr does not, is large user bases. Wire, on the other hand, is geared toward enterprises. As for Speek, it routes all traffic through the Tor network, which provides an additional layer of security.
Wickr: Private Messaging for Businesses and Individuals
Wickr has yet to expand its user base to a point where everyday people use it to communicate with one another, but even if it never matches the popularity of WhatsApp and similar services, it could become indispensable as a secure collaboration platform for businesses and large organizations.
If you are looking for an encrypted messaging app to talk with friends and family, there are a number of safe and private alternatives to consider.