A group of former Skype, Apple and Microsoft employees, backed by Skype’s co-founder Janus Friis, created a Skype alternative called “Wire” back in 2014, which wasn’t end-to-end encrypted at the time. The team announced that the latest version of the app brings open source end-to-end encryption from everything to chats to video calls, as well as multi-device end-to-end encryption.
When Wire launched at the end of 2014, its main promised advantage over Skype and other messengers was the “crystal clear voice.” However, this doesn’t seem to have been enough for the app to pick up steam, which is why it has received a major encryption upgrade by adopting the open source Axolotl protocol.
The protocol was first created and adopted by the team behind the fully open source Signal app. It was quickly considered the state-of-the-art in encryption protocols for messengers, because it offered strong end-to-end encryption, the ability to send end-to-end encrypted messages to offline users, and end-to-end encrypted group chats.
Since then, the protocol has been adopted by Whatsapp (although the company never officially announced it, and it doesn’t allow users to verify each other cryptographically), Silent Phone, and ChatSecure (a popular privacy-focused app for iOS and Android).
For voice and video calls, Wire uses the same DTLS and SRTP encryption standards found in the peer-to-peer WebRTC protocol. The protocol has its weaknesses, but it’s still a step up from the centralized video-call services implemented by Skype or Hangouts, which could more easily intercepted.
Protected By Strong Privacy Laws
Wire is headquartered in Switzerland and Germany, two of the most privacy-friendly countries in the world. The app benefits from the strong privacy laws of both nations, as well as the European Union’s Data Protection regulation.
As the the governments of U.S., UK, and even France become increasingly more aggressive towards encryption, more and more companies that actually care about their users’ privacy seem to be moving to either Germany or Switzerland, where the chance to be strong-armed into backdooring their services is much lower. If that were to happen, at least the companies would have those countries’ privacy-friendly Constitutions on their side, and could have a high chance of winning such battles in Court.
Comparison With Other Apps
All of Wire’s encryption is open source, but its user interface is closed source, which means vulnerabilities could still be introduced potentially without the user being able to find out about them. At some level you still have to trust the team behind it to not do nefarious things, but this can be more easily achieved when the company takes so many privacy-friendly measures, including being headquartered in privacy-friendly countries. This is more than most other messaging companies are willing to do.
Although it’s not fully open source the way Signal is, it’s a little more complete because it offers video calls, making it more of a true Skype alternative. This makes it the best overall private messenger for the masses at present.
For those who are really worried about their privacy or worried that they are targets of various governments, Signal would still be a better choice. However, it seems the more time passes, the more we see “mainstream” chat applications get closer to the ideal in security and privacy, which can only be good news for everyone.
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu.