Peter Sunde, who cofounded controversial torrent directory site ThePirateBay, has a new app that may bother governments just as much, if not more than his earlier efforts: It’s a secure messaging app that should prove impossible to snoop on.
Heml.is, meaning “secret” in Swedish, will use a form of encryption that means that messages sent through the service are secure and un-readable at every single point of the message’s journey–except where they need to be read: At the writer’s end and the reader’s end. The company isn’t saying how the system works yet, but notes that it’s utilizing “existing, proven technology” like XMPP and PGP. E2E encryption works by encrypting the message at the very moment it’s created, along with information about its intended recipient. This means the data can stream through open channels, such as cell phone data networks, without fear of being intercepted–only the recipient has the key to unlock the data, and the key will be securely held on their device.
Savvy to the fact that complex secure systems can sometimes bring about their own downfall, the team is ensuring that the apps will be simple and easy to use.
End-to-end encryption is also how Apple’s iMessage is encoded, and Apple mentioned this in a press release designed to allay worries about the PRISM surveillance program. But Apple’s required by law to provide access to the decryption keys when asked by the authorities–and this is a loophole. The Heml.is team promises that their encryption is going to be even more clever, and no one–not even the Heml.is system operators–can access the content flowing through its network. This is an obvious move to sidestep legal demands for access. It’s worth noting that the service’s URL ends in “.is” which is the TLD for Iceland, a country that’s taken a staunchly independent attitude about digital security and which even deported FBI agents who flew in unannounced on the trail of WikiLeaks information.
To construct the app the team is raising $100,000 from potential users, and plans for the app to be free–though you may need to pay to unlock extra services like sharing images. In a move that demonstrates how alternative Heml.is really is, the team’s allowing anonymous crowd donations of Bitcoins as part of its funding process.