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New TextSecure delivers smoother encryption

Open WhisperSystems' TextSecure update takes some cues from WhatsApp's functionality, but more importantly it frees messaging from traditional SMS networks while still sending messages between phones.

The new TextSecure seamlessly changes between open and encrypted messages, indicated by the lock icon. Open WhisperSystems

TextSecure is a far cry from driving a multibillion-dollar buyout. But for people who care about having their SMS and instant messages protected from prying eyes, it's an app that just got easier to use and more secure.

The new Android version of TextSecure, announced Monday, still uses the TextSecure v2 protocol that debuted with its CyanogenMod integration last year. Open WhisperSystems' founder, a security researcher and developer who goes by the pseudonym Moxie Marlinspike, said that the partnership has helped his company.

"It's been great," he said. "Their userbase is enormous, and it's a great opportunity to bring totally frictionless end-to-end encryption to millions of people."

The new TextSecure keeps its advanced security technology, including advanced ratchet, enhanced deniability, and asynchronous orientation, but emphasizes that it's significantly easier to use by making encryption the default. Half-open sessions are eliminated, round trip key exchanges aren't required, and Marlinspike described it as "lightning fast."

"Unlike other IM services, there is no distinction between 'private' chats and 'normal' chats. Private is normal," he wrote.

In addition to the new private group chat feature, TextSecure now includes two modes of operation. The app is set by default to send both unsecured and secure messages by default. It will "push" all messages over data, and indicate which ones are encrypted by a lock icon next to the time stamp. Encryption, however, will only work on messages sent between TextSecure users.

TextSecure users can choose to activate an SMS fallback option which will use the standard text messaging network protocol when data is not available, but those messages will not be encrypted even when sent between TextSecure users. Without SMS fallback activated, the app behaves like WhatsApp.

In the coming months, TextSecure will be going fully cross-platform and will release an iOS app and a Web browser add-on. However, Marlinspike said that there are no current plans to incorporate a self-destructing message mechanism.