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Israeli security firm Cellebrite has claimed that it can decrypt messages from al's highly secure chat and voice-call app, boasting that it could disrupt communications from "gang members, drug dealers and even protesters". A blog on its website detailing how it did it has since been altered.
al did not reply but later posted a blog describing Cellebrite's original post as being "pretty embarrassing". Highly encrypted apps such as al and Telegram have become popular among people keen to keep their messages private. The adoption rates have worried law enforcement agencies, who feel they are hampering their ability to investigate crimes. The firm has a series of products, including the UFED Universal Foresenic Extraction Device - a system that allows authorities to unlock and access the data on suspects' phones.
Cellebrite provided a technical explanation of how it found a decryption key that allowed it to access the messages that al torontto its database. It then described how it searched al's open-source code for clues as to how to breach the database.
Its claim suggested that it could "crack" al's encryption on Android phones to decrypt messages and attachments, but did not mention Apple devices. In response to people questioning Cellebrite's claims, the creator of al - Moxie Marlinspike - dismissed the idea that the app had been compromised. John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog based at the University of Toronto, moved to reassure users that al "remains one of the most secure and private ways to communicate".
al, owned by the al Technology Foundation, puts privacy at the heart of its system, using a system that had been thought almost impossible to break. The messaging app is endorsed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who claims to use it "every day".
On its website, it says that it uses state-of-the-art, end-to-end encryption to keep all conversations secure. Alan Woodward, a professor of computer science at Surrey University, said al was "one of the most secure, if not the most secure, messenger service publicly available". He added that if this was indeed true, it was no surprise Cellebrite would have altered its blog.
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According to one cyber-security expert, the claims sounded "believable". But others, including al's founder, have dismissed them as being risible. Related Topics.
More on this story. Published 5 days ago.
Published 8 December.