Skype roots, open-source encryption: How startup Wire is spreading the word on secure comms

Wire CTO Alan Duric believes his startup, backed by Skype's co-founder, is treading a path on encryption and privacy that others will end up following.

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Wire says it is picking up between 150,000 and 250,000 users per month.

Image: Wire Swiss

Over the past few weeks, communication startup Wire has launched secure file-sharing and a new ultra-private version of its messaging service, which uses end-to-end encryption for all text-based, audio, and video conversations.

Wire's conversation content is encrypted using open-source cryptography on the sender's device and only decrypted on the recipient's device.

The company doesn't hold the decryption keys and says its software contains no backdoor. Furthermore, the data or the content of users' conversations will not be sold or rented to anyone or used for any third-party advertising.

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Wire CTO Alan Duric: There's room for alternatives to the bigger comms apps that aren't taking much care of users' private data.

Image: Alan Duric/Twitter

"People are getting more and more aware of the potential dangers that not having private communications can bring them," Wire co-founder and CTO Alan Duric tells ZDNet.

Like many other startups that are connected or linked to Estonia, Wire also has its roots in the success of Skype.

The company was established in 2012 by Skype's co-founder Janus Friis, Estonian Priidu Zilmer, who led Skype's visual design for seven years, and Alan Duric, who was the co-founder of Sonorit, a VoIP startup bought by Skype in 2006.

Duric says the connections that led to the founding of Wire actually go back almost a decade earlier when he was introduced to Friis in 2003 at Global IP Sound, which was the company providing speech-coding and sound-processing technology to Skype, then still called Skyper.

Wire is based in Switzerland and has servers in the EU. With several international offices, it altogether employs between 50 and 60 staff. Counting the co-founder and the design team lead by Zilmer, six of them are Estonians. "Quite a bit of the DNA of the company," Duric says.

Wire doesn't disclose its user numbers yet. According to Duric the service is growing at the speed of between 150,000 and 250 000 users per month, and the biggest markets are countries where there is more awareness of personal data privacy issues, such as the US, Germany, and the UK.

He says although there are other, more popular services that provide end-to-end encryption, they lack the privacy and security capabilities Wire already has.

"Yes, there's one [Telegram] that has 100 million users and another [WhatsApp] that has a billion users. But with Telegram you have to actively switch conversation to the private mode. Telegram doesn't have this private mode for group chats and it doesn't support voice and video calls and neither group voice calls that we already have," he says.

Although WhatsApp does now support encryption on iOS, it still does not offer it for standalone desktops without an accompanying phone app, or for video or group calls.

He also points out WhatsApp is owned by Facebook whose primary revenue source come from data mining.

"The privacy of your own data is a foundation that's going to be appealing to a number of users. It's not necessarily going to be appealing to the whole market. When whole foods and organic food entered the market 20 to 30 years ago, they were not mainstream," he says.

"But then, within just a couple of years it became apparent to a number of people that this is the way to do it. So after some years you could see that even the big food market chains have healthy food sections even if the rest of the food is not so healthy."

By analogy, Duric argues that there's room for substantial alternatives to the bigger communication applications that, he says, are not taking much care of users' private data.

Wire's co-founder Janus Friis has publicly declared that Wire is never going to sell ads. Instead revenue will be generated mostly via premium accounts.

Duric points out that privacy doesn't end with communications and hints there are several other services that can be provided using Wire's secure platform.

"Services such as storing your, let's say, personal photos in full resolution without doing data mining on your photos. That has substantial value for quite some number of people," he says.

"Once you have services up and a platform that's known for its highest privacy and security standards, then it also opens up a number of other areas and a number of other business models that we'll be showing in a time to come."

Wire is funded by Iconical, which is a collective of designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs. According to Duric, Wire is not planning to take in any other external investments, but that situation might change in the future.

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