Security

New instant messenger Telegram protected even from spy intrusions

Image Credit: Mopic/Shutterstock

Telegram, a recently launched instant messenger, offers users encryption protection too sophisticated even for security agencies to overcome, the Russian business daily Vedomosti quoted Pavel Durov, a prominent Russian businessman, as saying.

The founder and chief executive of VKontakte, Russia’s number one social network, Durov is also the mastermind behind the Telegram project, which came online this past summer as an app for Apple mobile products and was then upgraded to serve Android-powered gadgets.

As the inaugural product of Durov’s U.S.-based Digital Fortress startup, the messenger is free, English-language only, and “in no way connected with VKontakte.”

Telegram uses MTProto, a data transfer protocol developed by Durov’s brother Nikolai. In an exchange with Vedomosti, Durov said that the developers had built the system on the assumption that “all communication channels are tapped,” and therefore added enough intricacy to its original code to safeguard users against any breach of privacy.

“Even our systems administrators cannot get access to user chats,” Durov told both Vedomosti and VKontakte’s Telegram user community.

Durov specifically emphasized, however, that despite the brilliance of the new encryption, the Telegram code won’t be used in VKontakte, which is a Russian-registered entity. One reason is the low likelihood of getting approval from the FSB, the post-Soviet successor of the KGB. Another is a veto by the two other shareholders of the social network: UCP, a Russian investment fund, and Mail.ru Group, owned by Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov.

UCP has been claiming that Durov is fanning a serious conflict of interest by nurturing a separate messenger project that could potentially compete with VKontakte. Durov denies these allegations and vows to be increasingly sensitive to issues of personal data protection in his projects following revelations by his “personal hero” Edward Snowden. The fugitive ex-NSA contractor has leaked information about U.S. secret agencies sleuthing Internet users’ personal chats through cooperation with services like Skype.

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