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Communications of the ACM

ACM TechNews

How Secure Are Your Messages?

using a messaging app

Most users who don't experience significant security problems are reluctant to understand or use security features.

Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) have found most users of the Facebook Messenger, What'sApp, and Viber messaging apps are leaving themselves open to fraud or other hacks because they are unaware of or are not using the right security tools. BYU's Elham Vaziripour notes although What'sApp and Viber have default message encryption, all three apps also require an authentication ceremony to ensure true security. However, Vaziripour says few users know of the ceremony and its importance, so "it is possible that a malicious third party or man-in-the middle attacker can eavesdrop on their conversations."

An authentication ceremony enables users to confirm the identity of their intended conversation partner, and ensures no other party can intercept messages. Experiments showed prompting users to initiate such ceremonies led to more successful authentications, but participants averaged 11 minutes to authenticate partners. Vaziripour thinks this could be remedied if the authentication ceremony was conducted behind the scenes automatically or effortlessly.

From Brigham Young University
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