Secure messaging on Twitter. What Elon Musk says

Elon Musk, Twitter, Halli, Iceland, Ueno

Twitter launched encrypted messaging Wednesday, offering select users the ability to communicate more securely. But its new service is much more of a baby step than a giant leap forward.

For starters, it lacks basic protections that security experts consider essential for shielding messages from hackers and other prying eyes. Senders and receivers must also be subscribed to Twitters Blue service for $11 a month ($8 for desktop-only) or otherwise affiliated with an organisation verified by Twitter for $1,000 a month plus $50 per user.

The companys official message announcing the rollout promised additional features soon. But CEO Elon Musk offered his own caution via a tweet: Try it, but dont trust it yet.

WHAT IS ENCRYPTED MESSAGING AGAIN? Ordinary messages sent across the internet, whether by email, direct message, Twitter or other means are generally vulnerable to interception that could allow other people or organisations to read them. That includes the companies offering the message services. Those companies can also be required to produce user messages in response to a legal subpoena or court order.

Encryption technology offers protection against spies and nosy online neighbours by encoding messages so that only the sender and the recipient can decipher them.

SO HOW DOES TWITTERS NEW ENCRYPTION STACK UP? Not super well. The gold standard in secure messaging is set by services such as Signal and ProtonMail, which use strong end-to-end encryption to shield messages so that no one else not even the companies themselves can read them.

Twitters service doesnt currently do that. For the moment, its encrypted messages are vulnerable to a so-called man-in-the-middle attack that allows an attacker to insinuate themselves into an encrypted conversation to listen in and even modify messages as theyre sent. Twitter itself, in fact, has the ability to do this.

The acid test is that I could not see your DMs even if there was a gun to my head, Musk tweeted on Tuesday. But Twitter isnt there yet.

Twitter also doesnt offer any way to report encrypted messages for harassment or abuse, although it will be possible to block individual senders. ARE THERE OTHER DRAWBACKS? Yes. For instance, Twitters encrypted messages can only be sent to another individual. Twitter says it will soon be expanding encryption to groups. Encrypted messages are also limited to text and links; photos, video and other attachments arent supported yet, the company says.

Twitter encryption also doesnt provide whats called forward secrecy,” which would prevent an attacker who gets hold of a users private key from using it to read earlier and subsequent messages.

In its official document, Twitter says forward secrecy techniques arent compatible with user expectations that theyll always be able to obtain their historical messages from the cloud. As a result, the company doesnt plan to offer forward secrecy at all.

A final issue: Users wont have any way to make encrypted messages a default setting; theyll have to deliberately choose encryption each time they start a new conversation.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Federal staff and is auto-published from a syndicated feed.)