Twitter has purchased the mobile security startup Whisper Systems, a two person mobile security software development company.
While not revealing the exact terms of the deal, Twitter did confirm the acquisition and stated that “As part of our fast-growing engineering team, they will be bringing their technology and security expertise to Twitter’s products and services. We’re happy to have Moxie and Stuart onboard,” Stuart Anderson and Moxie Marlinspike founded Whisper and were its only employees.
The interesting point about this purchase is that Twitter has never been very security oriented. The social network/micro-blogging platform doesn’t even default to HTTPS. So why is Twitter interested in Whisper?
Well, Twitter might simply have been interested in Whispers employees rather than the company itself for one. All of Whisper’s product lines, including secure texting (TextSecure,) encrypted voice communications (RedPhone,) and a way to save encrypted Android backups in the cloud (Flashback) are still in beta.
But while Twitter is silent on the deal, Anderson and Marlinspike are not, posting a statement on the Whisper Systems website on Monday, that “the Whisper Systems software as our users know it will live on (and we have some surprises in store that we’re excited about), but there is unfortunately a transition period where we will have to temporarily take our products and services offline.” RedPhone for example was shut down immediately whereas Flashback will remain up for another month to allow its users to pull off any backup data before it too goes offline.
There are many who are complaining about this stop in service as reported by the Register, “dissidents and others who need RedPhone to encrypt their Android calls have no ability to use the service–and they have the Twitter acquisition to thank for the disruption.”
What’s interesting about Whisper’s history is that it was a service only available in the US until mass protests in Egypt, against the regime of Hosni Mubarak broke out in Cairo. The government there was reportedly conducting surveillance on the protesters and monitoring their SMS, voice communications as well as their internet usage on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
While the deal does put a “temporary” end to Whisper’s services, the move from Twitter to acquire a company with mobile security products is important to note. As more and more people start using social media sites on their smartphones, the need for these services to provide a more secure means of interacting is crucial to keep their users. But is that what this acquisition signifies, a move on Twitter’s part towards a more secure platform? From Anderson and Marlinspike’s posts I would be inclined to think so.