Put WhatsApp, Slack, admin privileges in a blender and what do you get? Wickr
But are enterprises willing to pay for this suite smoothie?
I could tell you but...
To his credit, Wallenstrom notes, unprompted, that if Wickr is served with a notice forcing it to introduce a backdoor, it will likely also include the requirement that he is not allowed to talk about it. (As Lavabit found out soon after Edward Snowden went public.)
Because Wickr has opened up its cryptography to review – it's on GitHub – he argues that any backdoor "will be discovered within a month." And as for general security, "we rely on math as much as possible." He notes: "If I can't get access [to other people's content], nobody can get access."
Wickr has opened up its source code – unlike other notable messaging apps like Telegram – to provide people with a sense of security. And that was something he insisted on before taking the job, he tells us. But it isn’t planning to offer the code for reuse. "We don't want to be licensing."
The company does want you to pay for its products, however. Beyond the free messaging app – which works well but is also just another secure messaging app – there is a $25 per user, per month cost to using the Pro version. The Enterprise version works out cheaper on a per-user basis but Wallenstrom notes that it's really only when people have more than 20 people that they have that conversation.
Why should a company pay tens of thousands of dollars to Wickr when they can pretty much the same thing for free with Signal and Slack?
He give three reasons:
- Admin controls. You can manage conversations, set your own message expiration times, archive channels, automate workflows and so on. Compliance becomes possible.
- Privacy. Wallenstrom notes in a roundabout way that companies like Slack were built with half an eye to mining the information shared over the service whereas Wickr was designed from the start to not allow it to access that information, so the corporate drive simply isn't there to find out how to profit from user information.
- Video conferencing. Wickr allows for secure video conferencing. Something that other companies like Skype and WebEx would have a hard time arguing.
Wallenstrom has lots of reasons for why he believes companies will slowly move toward paying for messaging and collaboration tools.
He draws an analogy to penetration testing – a market he spent some time in before Wickr. "In the old days, people would only do pen testing when they had had a breach." Even then, he noted, people would be very resistant to the idea of a third party trying to break into their systems and his company would often get cease-and-desist orders from another part of the organization. Now, though, pen testing has become a common corporate preventative practice.
It's also his belief that the current situation where employees are using a huge range of different tools – from email to messaging apps to collaborative tools – can't last. It's simply too much and too messy.
He notes that Mary Meeker in her recent internet trends presentation – something that has become something of a touchstone for tech execs in recent years – noted that people are not buying more phones and they're not downloading more apps. It's now all about what you are doing with what you have.
If that's the case, who are the new clients that Wickr is chasing right now?
Interestingly, the answer is political campaigns. With the November US mid-terms drawing close and an epic battle expected between the two parties as Democrats try to pull back control of Congress, there is plenty of money floating around but at the same time political campaigns are pretty demanding, goal-focused clients. It's fast and it's all or nothing.
Plus of course – as the Democrats discovered to their considerable horror – the security of electronic messages between team members can be a critical component in any political campaign. How often does John Podesta wish he'd never acted on that email?
Wickr looks like a perfect solution: secure, automatic message deletion, easy to setup and easy to shut down.
Of course, that's a hard business to build on the back of: short-term, cyclical. To work, Wickr needs to be viewed as a semi-permanent solution to a corporate headache; a headache bad enough that execs are willing to put money into making it go away.
And in theory, Wickr should be ideally placed: Signal for the enterprise; Blackberry for 2018. A secure corporate solution that deals with the new way of working without forcing every staffer to live in a controlled box, or exposing your company data to people looking to monetize it.
The big question is: are there enough people dissatisfied with the two extremes to support a combined solution? Wickr is counting on the answer being a firm Yes. ®