Internet over the years had transformed how people conduct conversations with each other. Therefore, one of the major concerns in this modern age is to protect the sensitive information being shared to other users.
One important feature provided by all secure messaging apps is the encryption of conversations. Thru the use of codes and a pair of “keys”, it allows messages to only be sent and opened by the authorized parties.
Therefore, we first need to know the meanings of secure messaging apps and encryption.
MEANING OF SECURE MESSAGING APPS
Secure messaging apps offer various methods in order to protect users from potential snoopers and hackers who will use confidential information for their own benefit.
MEANING OF ENCRYPTION
Encryption is a method that allows someone to hide the meaning of a message so that only those who have the correct passcode or key can decipher it.
Now let’s go back in time and know how secure messaging apps all began.
(Disclaimer: This is not in chronological order)
HISTORY OF SECURE MESSAGING APPS
It has been a common conception that sharing of private communication began ever since the first humans learned to communicate. Scientists are looking for proof is there are actually modified messages during this period of time.
Ancient civilizations strive to develop a form of code and tools helpful in encrypting messages which were useful especially in times of wars or political unrest.
The first recorded evidence of encryption dates back to ancient Egypt. There were modifications of the hieroglyphic alphabet found in several tombs and ancient buildings which were done for passing on secret information, talking about someone, or even for plain entertainment.
Marconi invented the radio which is a tool used to transmit information wirelessly across different locations. It was a necessity to have reliable encryption after it was proven that the messages sent through it can be received and deciphered by anyone especially if they have knowledge about codes.
Computer programmers struggled a lot to develop their own codes and machines which aim to protect sensitive information especially when it was proven that the “unbreakable” codes formulated by some scientists like Vigenere were proven by Babbage and Kasiski to be actually destructible. They are desperately trying to make new ciphers in order to make private business and military correspondence secure again.
The invention of Enigma by Arthur Scherbius, a German inventor, shaped the course of World War II as a complex machine that was difficult to decrypt. Other countries, especially Germany’s enemies like Poland, France, and Britain, were frantically looking for methods to solve the machine’s mystery or look for new codes to protect information. With their help, it became a crucial discovery in protecting a lot of people and shortened the length of the Second World War.
Because of the Information age and more technological breakthroughs, people not working in the military or government became aware of computers and can buy one themselves so they finally had access to its technology including its use for encrypting messages. The public is now concerned about their privacy and security. Data Encryption Standard (DES) was established and standardized for business use.
An independent security expert named Whitfield Diffie, together with Martin Hellman, was inspired by public key cryptography which was done by Ralph Merkle so they devised a method which does not require the authorized parties to actually meet each other. This discovery made a breakthrough in cryptography because it used a model where anyone can encrypt a message using the receiver’s public key and then the receiver will use a private key to decrypt it.
Nevertheless, this method needed the correct mathematical function in order for it to become a reality. So in 1976, a team at MIT Laboratory for Computer Science’s composed of Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman wrote an outline paper which detailed a method called RSA and became the most influential cipher for cryptographers.
An advocate of widespread usage of strong encryption, Phil Zimmerman made a software called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) that placed all theories and algorithms together in one easy-to-use product which ran on most moderate computers.
The concept of “instant messaging” started back in the 1960s although the phrase became common in the 1990s.
Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) was created in 1961 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which allowed up to 30 registered users to log in and send messages to each other at the same time.
The same programmers started to work on the peer-to-peer protocol in the 1970s in order for universities and research labs to have communication between users who are registered in the same computer.
In the 1980s, the Bulletin Board System (BBS) was developed which allowed registered users to access a program that allowed them to download and upload software as well as to exchange messages with each other.
Commodore International released in 1982 the Commodore 64 PC which included an internet service called Quantum Link or Q-Link which later became known as the America Online (AOL). Registered users are required to pay a monthly fee in order to send messages via modem and the receiving party is allowed to decide if they will respond or ignore the message being sent.
In 1980, CB Simulator was created by CompuServe and was also known as the first service which was dedicated to online chat by allowing users to create user handles and send messages.
In 1997, AOL launched AIM which enabled registered users to add friends in your own Buddy List, send messages, edit their user profiles, create messages in case they are away from the computer, join and form chat rooms depending on your interests in order to interact with more users, interact with bots such as StudyBuddy, and create different icons which are displayed on the account.
Yahoo! Pager was introduced by Yahoo in 1998 and later became known Yahoo! Messenger. It had some of the same features with AIM such as chat rooms and customized user profiles. It also introduced new features such as IMVironments, integrating contacts from the address book of your own device and edit your status messages.
Pidgin, an open-sourced instant messaging website, and MSN Messenger, a service offered by Microsoft, came into the messaging scene Pidgin. They allowed registered users to contact people from multiple operating systems, inform you if someone is online and allowed them to send online messages and emails to users from different platforms.
In 2002, Apple released iChat or iChat AV for its users who had the Mac OS X operating system. The service allowed to integrate contacts from address books and Apple Mail Apple into one application.
Skype allowed registered users in 2003 to communicate with each other thru chat, video and voice calls.
In 2005, MSN Messenger was renamed into Windows Live Messenger and it had new features such as sharing photos to other users, add contacts from social media accounts and even had games.
Meebo was a messaging service which was accessible via web browser and over time developed an application which had versions for Apple and Android users.
Google also came into the scene with the introduction of Google Talk (also known as Google Chat or GChat) which was available in web browsers and mobile applications. It was also integrated through Gmail so users can easily access it while sending emails. It also offers text-based messaging, audio and video calls.
Skype was integrated with Facebook during 2011 which allowed users from both services to use fully all of their features.
MySpaceIM was added to Myspace in 2006 where registered users can send messages to each other thus making it the first social network who integrates its own messaging service to its platform. Over time, the service was included with Skype.
In 2008, Facebook developed its own Chat service which enabled users to chat with one or more users while being logged in to its site. Due to its partnership with Skype, it also offered audio and video chats. It then released its own mobile application called Facebook Messenger.
Apple also had iMessage then it was replaced to OS X Mountain Lion’s Messages which allowed users to send messages to almost every Apple product.
With the invention of applications for a lot of messaging services available on web browsers, it became easier for users to communicate with each other.
There were many instances when hackers and even the programmers themselves have access to read conversations and see private information. These resulted in users becoming wary of their online security.
With the knowledge acquired from studying cryptography, programmers finally developed something that can solve the concern of users with the introduction of secure messaging apps.
They first offered encryption which allows only the registered users to have access in reading or sending messages. These prevent everyone, including the developers, to decode the conversations. Over time, even video and audio calls are now encrypted. Some even have the capabilities to send media such as text and video.
The future looks bright with more messaging apps striving to focus on security as part of their main features.