Signal to become European Commission's main mesaging app

The move is part of EU’s efforts to beef up cybersecurity amid rising number of data breaches

The Commission has prompted all its staff to switch to the encrypted Signal messaging app in a move that’s designed to increase the security of the EU executive's communications. Earlier this month, a message on the Commission’s internal messaging boards notified employees about the change. “Signal has been selected as the recommended application for public instant messaging,” the message says.

But, Signal will not be used for all communication. Encrypted emails will be used to send non-classified but sensitive information, and classified documents use tighter security measures still. Signal, meanwhile, is intended to be used for external communications between staff and people outside the organisation.

The initiative comes as the EU is attempting to lock down the security of its communications in the wake of high-profile hacks. In June 2018, BuzzFeed News reported that the European Union’s embassy in Moscow had been hacked and had information stolen from its network.

Later that year, The New York Times reported that the EU’s diplomatic communications network had been hacked over the course of a three-year period in a display of the “remarkably poor protection” given to official communications. At the same time, WhatsApp has been hit by a number of security scandals - some based on hackers targeting endpoint vulnerabilities and others based on bugs in its code or social engineering.

The move also came just days before the Commission announced it will be drafting a new cybersecurity strategy, to better protect EU Member States against possible cyber threats after numerous security incidents in recent years.

The European Commission is not the only governmental body to tell its staff to switch to Signal. Last December, The Guardian reported that the UK’s ruling party, the Conservatives, told its MPs to switch to the service from WhatsApp. At the time, there was speculation that the switch was done in order to take advantage of Signal’s disappearing messages feature to stop leaks like those the party saw while using WhatsApp. However, a party spokesperson claimed it was because its recent influx of newly elected MPs meant that it had exceeded WhatsApp’s maximum group size.

As a whole, Signal has proven alluring in recent years because of its WhatsApp like ease of use as well as its overall secure nature. Generally considered to be one of the most secure messaging apps available, it is an open source, uses end-to-end encryption by default, and unlike WhatsApp, it doesn’t store any message metadata or use the cloud to back up messages. Edward Snowden said at one point that he uses it every day, and it even has the backing of one of WhatsApp’s original co-founders. Its ironic, however, that government bodies are switching to apps like this while law enforcement agencies rail against the adoption of encryption.

Officials in Brussels, Washington and other capitals, for instance have been putting strong pressure on Facebook and Apple to allow government agencies to access to encrypted messages; if these agencies refuse, legal requirements could be introduced that force firms to do just that.

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