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Privacy Tech | New Wickr CEO looks to build on ephemeral messaging Related reading: Why the Apple crypto case goes beyond one company’s privacy battle




Maybe there’s something to this ephemeral messaging thing. Just as Snapchat reportedly eyes an initial public offering that may bring in as much as $4 billion, another company focused on messages that automatically disappear is also poised to grow: Wickr.

A favorite messaging app of dissidents, journalists, and others who want to ensure their messages and audio are both encrypted and set to expire after a specified time (it even showed up in a recent episode of Mr. Robot), Wickr is now looking to expand into the enterprise space, with a new CEO possessing deep experience in security research and product development plans to address enterprise needs.

Joel Wallenstrom was an early investor in Wickr, founded just five years ago, so he didn’t need convincing of the company’s potential, he said in an interview with Privacy Tech just as he was announced as the company's new president and CEO. Further, in his work co-founding infosec researchers iSEC Partners, and then with NCC Group after it acquired iSEC, “I just saw Wickr happening,” he said. If there wasn’t already a solution for privacy conversations in place, those involved in a security incident Wallenstrom was investigating would simply turn to Wickr of their own accord.

“I was obviously pretty curious,” he said, “because I was so close to it, and I’d say, ‘What’s the use case here?’ And usually they were looking to take conversations out of band. They’d say, ‘Whenever privacy really matters, this is the tool we use.’”

They also wanted more out of the tool, however, which is where the possibilities lie for Wickr in the enterprise space. Can it be collaborative? Can it be project-based? Can there be a way to invite people to come message in a private space?

"We’ve seen an awful lot in the news about communications and how they’re kept private — and not — and that to me is really interesting. If and when Wickr tastes the success we suspect it will, we’ll have an important voice in that debate." —Joel Wallenstrom, Wickr

That potential, plus his affinity with the people already working at Wickr and the potential of the privacy tech space in general, drove him to come on board full-time. “The privacy debate is going to be important and robust over the next few years,” Wallenstrom said. “We’ve seen an awful lot in the news about communications and how they’re kept private – and not – and that to me is really interesting. If and when Wickr tastes the success we suspect it will, we’ll have an important voice in that debate.”

For Wickr co-founder Nico Sell, Wallenstrom brings the highest levels of credibility. “ISEC Partners is the number one most respected group at Black Hat,” she said. “Really, it was iSEC research and then everyone else.”

So, where do they see Wickr working for the enterprise? To start with, data destruction is built in to the product. For messages you don’t want sitting on an email server and discoverable and hackable, Wickr solves the problem of cleaning things up manually after the fact.

Further, said Wallenstrom, “incident response is an absolute no-brainer.” If your organization has been hacked, or “owned,” you certainly can’t use your normal internal communications tools.

“Sony had to move over to GMail after their email was compromised,” Sell noted.

A chief privacy officer should create policy, Wallenstrom advised, that makes sure employees switch to ephemeral, encrypted messaging as soon as penetration is discovered. “This allows them to have conversations like they do on the phone,” which is where many executives turn when they don’t want there to be a discoverable trail, he noted, “but they get to use their thumbs and hands.”

While PGP encrypted email is a potential solution, Wallenstrom noted that it can be a solution that’s difficult to use for the average employee, especially in a crisis situation. “That’s been a problem in the industry for a long time,” he said, “just getting people to understand how to do that.”

For Wickr, however, this is likely just the start. “We have to maintain the messenger product,” Wallenstrom said of future plans, “but we also have to expand and penetrate the enterprise.”

He didn’t come on board to maintain the status quo. He came on board to guide Wickr into its next iteration. Look for more news shortly, he promised.


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