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CyanogenMod Android firmware gains built-in SMS encryption

Open WhisperSystems' TextSecure tech now the default

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Users of the CyanogenMod alternative Android firmware gained additional security on Monday, thanks to the integration of Open WhisperSystems' TextSecure protocol.

Founded by security researchers Moxie Marlinspike and Stuart Anderson, Open WhisperSystems develops security software that can encrypt voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephone calls and SMS/MMS messages.

Android device owners can install the company's TextSecure SMS security software by downloading it from the Google Play store. But the company announced on Monday that the CyanogenMod project is also shipping the technology baked into its firmwares by default, beginning with current nightly builds of version 10.2.

With TextSecure as part of the default CyanogenMod SMS software, users can choose any SMS app they want and enjoy secure messaging to other TextSecure-enabled devices automatically, whether they are running the software on Android or iOS.

"If an outgoing SMS message is addressed to another CyanogenMod or TextSecure user, it will be transparently encrypted and sent over the data channel as a push message to the receiving device," Marlinspike explained in a blog post. "That device will then decrypt the message and deliver it to the system as a normal incoming SMS."

In the event that the device does not support TextSecure, on the other hand, the messaging layer will fall back to an ordinary, unencrypted SMS channel.

The in-firmware version of the tech supports all of the features of the standalone TextSecure app, including its key exchange protocol and support for multiple cryptographic algorithms.

According to the CyanogenMod team, the code is being integrated with the version 10.2 nightly builds as a trial balloon, but if all goes well, it will be baked into all future builds of CyanogenMod 11, as well.

Marlinspike praised the firmware team's willingness to include the technology on Monday, saying that doing so took "a substantial commitment of time and resources."

"Their genuine resolve to protect their users from large-scale dragnet surveillance is truly remarkable in a world where most companies are instead angling to collect as much information about their users as possible," Marlinspike wrote.

Versions of the CyanogenMod firmware with TextSecure built in are available for a variety of devices via the project's download site. ®

The next step in data security

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