Secure Enterprise Messaging with Teamwire

There is a relatively new enterprise messaging app called “Teamwire“. The app is a fast, easy to use and secure app for all internal enterprise messaging needs. Basically the goal seems to be to offer mid-sized businesses and large corporations a secure and enterprise-capable messaging app with a clear focus on mobile devices.

Within corporations employees often use Whatsapp or similar consumer messaging apps to quickly reach colleagues, discuss topics in real-time, drive work and make decisions. Email with its crowded and overflowing inboxes is too busy and not capable of these tasks anymore. Besides on mobile devices users prefer simple and easy to use apps, which are fully integrated in the mobile operating system for additional features. However, messaging apps like Whatsapp are not secure and violate corporate IT compliance.

As an alternative there are business messaging services (also referred to as unified communication services). While there are many business messaging services available (HipChat, Lync, Hall, Sametime, Slack, etc. – just to name a few), most of them come from the PC world and lack a focus on mobile devices. Furthermore, most of them focus and small and medium businesses, and are not enterprise-capable. If they are enterprise-capable (like e.g. Lync), their strengths mostly rest in VOIP services and online meeting tools. Thus, there is no dedicated enterprise messaging app or a “Whatsapp for enterprise” yet. This seems to be the goal of Teamwire.

From a feature set, Teamwire is pretty similar to the leading consumer messaging apps: 1:1 and group messaging, and sharing of any digital content (videos, photos, locations, voice messages, links with previews, etc.). A couple of features stand out though:

First, there is what Teamwire calls a visual inbox. This enables users to easily start new chats for different topics, and thus avoids the mixing of conversations in one chat only. Especially for group messaging this is great, and since group messaging is a major business use case, this is quite an important feature. Another advantage of the visual inbox is, that users can post status updates and therefore are able to easily share news like in a company social network. Second, Teamwire has read receipts – not only on an individual but also on a group level. So you can exactly see which recipients of a group message have seen your message. Third, the app offers on-click distribution lists. Users can set-up lists for their team, unit, group or anything they like, and then message and share with these colleagues with one-click. Fourth, users can easily share calendar dates as well as files. Again, these are important business use cases.

Teamwire - Secure Enterprise Messaging

Teamwire – Enterprise Messaging

However, the main differentiator of Teamwire are the security and administrator features. The service is completely encrypted: The transmission, the meta data, the messages, the content and the storage on the servers. As a German provider Teamwire complies with strong German and European data protection laws (e.g. anonymizing user data, no address book storage, etc.), and all data is stored in Germany only.

In addition, Teamwire offers an administrator portal. The portal enables enterprise IT to manage all users, define communication rules (e.g. closed communication groups to protect distribution of content), and archive messages. In order to fully comply with enterprise requirements, Teamwire also supports the enterprise mobility solution of the leading mobile device management vendor “MobileIron“.

As a deployment option, Teamwire offers a private cloud solution or an on-premise solution (based on the information of the Techcrunch database). This is quite interesting, since everything moves to the cloud nowadays. Teamwire seems to bet on the enduring on-premise requirements of large corporations.  

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Best Messaging Apps 2013

There are hundreds of messaging apps available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores. The market for messaging apps is a really crowded space and for users it is increasingly difficult to get an overview of the best apps available. Here is our take on the best messaging apps in 2013 for various categories:

Best Instant Messaging App

1. Whatsapp
2. Line
3. Kik

Reason: Whatsapp is a fast and comprehensive instant messaging app. While the app has some weaknesses (e.g. when used for extensive group messaging and sharing), Whatsapp is very performant and available across all platforms.

Best Group Messaging App

1. Grouptime
2. Band
3. Groupme

Reason: Grouptime continuously keeps innovating and regularly launches new features to offer users the best group messaging and sharing experience. Grouptime is a powerful but still easy to use app, and comes with strong privacy protection.

Best Special Messaging App

1. Snapchat
2. Voxer
3. DingDong

Reason: Snapchat is great for ephermal messaging of photos, and has been one of the most popular apps among teens in 2013. If it is of wider use for the mainstream remains to be seen, but it has probably been the most hyped messaging app of the year.

Best Private Messaging App

1. Grouptime
2. Wickr
3. Silent Circle

Reason: Grouptime is a German company with strong data protection and privacy terms. Besides messages are not only encrypted, but in addition user data gets anonymized and no address books are stored. With this comprehensive set of features Grouptime has the lead over competitors from the USA.

Best Business Messaging App

1. Teamwire
2. Tigertext
3. Slack

Reason: Teamwire is a new enterprise messaging app with a very compelling feature set – personal and group messages, status updates for your teams, video messages, calendar sharing, file exchange, and more. The app is fast and easy to use, and besides very secure.

Business Messaging Apps

For the business communication with colleagues and teams, messaging apps are becoming more and more important. Of course businesses could use traditional instant messaging apps like Skype, ICQ, etc. or the newer versions of Whatsapp, Viber, Line and Co., but often a dedicated messaging app for business communication has advantages.

Desktop and Mobile Apps Offered

Most business messaging apps not only offer mobile apps for iPhone and Android, but a desktop client to enable easy access to your messages. This is generally great, but requires a good synchronization mechanism between the various clients and the server. Besides push notifications for new messages need to be delivered reliably.

Since some of the business messaging apps have their origin on the desktop, reliable push notifications and synchronization are often not certain. So if you select a provider, make sure to test these features beforehand.

Video Communication and File Sharing

Business messaging apps enables users to have 1-to-1 and group chats. Several apps also feature persistent chat rooms for individual projects, teams or entire departments. In order to serve more of your business communication needs, some of these messaging apps offer the ability to share files, and some even enable video meetings for small teams.

Strong Security and Privacy Required

Nearly all business messaging apps use an SSL encryption for the transmission of the messages, and promote the security of their services as being as safe as a bank. However, be aware that there still can be strong differences in the security and privacy features of the various providers. Depending on the level of security you need, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is only the transmission of the messages encrypted, or are the messages themselves encrypted as well?
  2. Are the messages stored encrypted on the server? And can the provider read the messages?
  3. Do user accounts and profiles get anonymized, so their privacy is fully protected? And if not, what user data gets stored?
  4. How regularly does the provider backup data, and on the other hand delete delivered messages from the server?
  5. Is the data stored in the USA (where it can be easily accessed by government agencies), in Europe (where data protection is much stronger) or elsewhere?
  6. From what country is the provider of the business messaging app, and what are the underlying data protection laws?

Relatively Young Market

Yet, there are not many dedicated and capable business messaging apps available. Several providers have started out with desktop and web apps and then extended into mobile (e.g. the business messaging services YammerHallHipChat and OneTeam). In addition, some new providers with a focus on mobile are about to launch: GoComm will focus on messaging for mobile workforces, and Teamwire will offer secure enterprise group messaging for instant, personal and private messaging with teams and colleagues.

Overall, it is still a relatively young market and it will be interesting to see, how business messaging apps will simplify and improve the communication as well as help to grow the productivity of a workplace.

How PRISM Affects Messaging Apps

As a consequence of the PRISM scandal many users are worried about the protection of their privacy, and how safely service providers handle their data.

Probably most user data of messaging apps can be monitored

It seems that if you are not a USA citizen, the government and its agencies have less restrictions in regard to what data they can monitor. If you are a citizen of the USA, there seem to be more restrictions on how they can access your data.

Generally it is likely that the agencies get quicker access to companies based in the USA. In other countries legal hurdles will prevent a quick and direct access to a user’s data.

While reliable information is hardly available, not only big companies like Facebook, Sykpe, Google, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, etc. are affected by PRISM, but probably as well many smaller service providers including the ones offering messaging apps and services.

Privacy and data protection unlikely with messaging app providers from the USA

Thus, most messaging app providers from the USA could well be affected by PRISM. And just to remember, some of them often haven’t had a history of being secure.

Overall, from a privacy perspective this can be worrying. It is not that the normal user has something to hide, but that her content and data might be monitored and stored somewhere without her knowledge.

Messaging services with end-to-end encryption from other countries beneficial 

Of course, people could turn to encrypt their messages, but many of the messaging apps offering encryption are not easy to use or not performant enough to be competitive. iMessage and Facetime are some of the exceptions which are said to be end-to-end encrypted. However, if Apple really has no master key to unlock your data, remains an open question.

If you are worried about your privacy, it is maybe worth taking a look at European messaging providers (for more info please read our secure and private sharing article). Some European countries like Germany have pretty strong law with regard to privacy and data protection. This could well be a safe harbor.

The Real Cost of Free Messaging Apps

Currently there are basically two types of messaging apps in the market: The first type has to be bought by the user for a license fee or a yearly subscription. The pricing is normally in the $1-2 range. The second type is free, and either comes with advertising or various in-app purchases to get the full functionality of the app.

Free messaging apps are users first choice

Needless to say, a user often goes for the free messaging apps. Especially if the feature set of the messaging app is competitive and compelling, only having to deal with ads seems pretty cheap initially. Besides many free messaging apps in the first 1-2 year after their launch don’t even show advertising to increase user growth. But make no mistake, sooner or later you will pay the price.

If you are lucky, a free messaging app later decides to monetize via an affordable subscription. If you are unlucky, you will get ads, which will finally end your privacy and data protection. To better target ads, providers of messaging apps need as much information as possible about their users. If you write a message to a friend, that you want to go shopping for some shoes, wouldn’t it be great to get some ads displayed about some shoe shops in your neighborhood? Well, probably you wouldn’t like it. However, for the messaging app provider these would be highly paid ads.

Advertising requires analysis of a user’s content and data 

The question will be, where to draw the line between privacy and data protection of the users on the one hand, and the monetization interests and required user information for targeting of ads on the other hand. In doubt many providers of free messaging apps will go for the higher monetization and against the user’s privacy. Which means: They will analyze your messaging content and often even hand it over to third parties.

That’s why I suggest, that as a user you should try to understand the revenue model, privacy and data protection of the messaging app you are going to use right from the start. Changing the messaging app and moving all your friends to another service later, is no fun at all and would incur a high additional cost.

Some messaging apps have a clear commitment to privacy and data protection

The good news is: There are some messaging apps that make a clear commitment to privacy, data protection and against advertising, and monetize via in-app purchases or with an affordable yearly subscription. Good examples are Whatsapp (SMS alternative) and Grouptime (great for group messaging and sharing).

As of today many things described here, are not yet visible for users of messaging apps. Nevertheless, this is the future, because all free messaging apps have to make a profit somehow. You can decide, if it happens at the cost of your privacy.

Private Messaging and Sharing Apps

In general people seem to become more and more privacy aware. While a couple of years ago social media and its related public sharing were a major trend, nowadays a kind of reverse trend has emerged. On the one hand people seem less comfortable with sharing everything with their hundreds of followers and friends on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but complicated privacy settings make more private sharing a nuisance. And on the other hand people seem more worried what happens with their content and data, and how it might be used by these networks without their consent. Thus in order to stay in control of their privacy, people increasingly turn to messaging apps which can make it quite easy to privately share. There are some good examples of how messaging apps can help people to protect their privacy, and also some issues to be aware of.

“Self-destructing” Content

I guess an extreme example of privacy protection with a messaging app is Snapchat, which is mainly used for photo sharing. The sender determines how long a photo is visible for the recipient (the maximum viewing time is 10 seconds), and afterwards the photo is not viewable anymore. The app is a big hit among teens, who use the app for sometimes doubtful use cases, which are also referred to “sexting”. Having said that, while sharing “self-destructing” images seems to do a job, for sharing everything else (text messages, locations, links, etc.) the app is useless. Besides the user interface is very basic, and people who look for beautiful design will be rather turned off. Facebook already cloned Snapchat with the app “Poke”. However, Facebook is probably not the right choice when it comes to privacy. We generally expect that “self-destructing” content will become a feature of messaging apps and social networks. So for those of you who don’t need this right away, simply wait a couple of months and your messaging app of choice will probably include such a feature.

Private Sharing and Group Messaging

Most messaging apps (e.g. Whatsapp, Line, WeChat, ChatOn, FB Messenger) have group chats by now, which more and more people also use for private sharing with groups. Well, group chats are pretty useful for coordinating, but for private sharing they are far from perfect. First, the chats with the bubble style are not clearly laid out and can be confusing, especially when it comes to sharing content like photos, links and locations. And second, setting up and inviting people to a group is still too complicated and not really adequate for personal sharing. Our preferred solution for private group sharing is an app called Grouptime, which is a private social network that combines group messaging and classical social network sharing. With its beautiful and simple to use interface, the app makes it actually really easy to personally share all kinds of content with the people you choose. Besides grouptime allows you to share multiple photos at once, and displays large images of contents like locations, links and photos. Due to a recent blog post it seems that privacy protection is very important to Grouptime. So if your looking for an app to privately share with family and close friends, and haven’t tried Grouptime, check it out.

No Advertising

This is more a side note, but an important one: Messaging apps that include advertisements, normally need to analyze and mine user data for better targeting of ads. So if your privacy is important to you, make sure to choose a messaging app with a business model that does not rely on advertising.

European Provider

We would choose an European messaging app (e.g. Grouptime, Moped, Threema, Yuilop, MySMS, etc.), simply because Europe has by far the best law enforcement and civil rights when it comes to privacy and data protection. Especially the US-based services were not always the best examples when it came to security and privacy protection in recent years….not to mention the lack of privacy laws in the US.

Encrypted Communication

While for many users encryption is not a must-have feature (who wants to spy on me anyway?), nowadays it is often a standard practice among messaging apps to encrypt the communication (e.g. via https) as well as a users data. If this is a must-have feature for private sharing for you, simply check with your messaging app of choice. The required information is normally available directly on a providers website.

Private and Secure Messaging Apps

Privacy, data protection and secure communication are always hot topics in the instant messaging and social networking world. Sometimes the issues at hand are greatly exaggerated by the media, however, quite often messaging apps have security and privacy flaws which users should be aware of. There aren’t many messaging apps which serve as a good example of how to protect as user’s privacy and personal data. That’s why today I want to take a closer look which messaging apps offer secure communication.

Market leader of messaging apps does not serve as a good example

One of the market leading messaging apps, Whatsapp, is definitely not a good example when it comes to protecting a users privacy. Whatsapp has had several security issues in the past. For years on most devices a user’s personal data, content and address book have been transmitted to the server unencrypted. Whatsapp has used HTTPS, but then has sent messages and content unencrypted, and even your ID visible in plain text. Thus in Wi-Fi networks it has been very easy for others to intercept a user’s data and to follow conversations. Actually there is even an Android app called “Whatsapp Sniffer” which allows to easily scan other people’s conversations in the same Wi-Fi. Only recently Whatsapp said to have closed these encryption issues. However, with millions of clients and different version out in the market, it will take a longer time till the existing security issues are really closed. And it remains to be seen if this encryption is a save one at all. Besides Whatsapp is an American company whose privacy and data protection enforcements are generally weak. From a market leading messaging app with millions of users I would have expected a better security and privacy concept.

European messaging apps better for privacy and data protection

Actually for better privacy and data protection it might be worth looking at European messaging apps, which have much stronger legal requirements in regard to protecting a user’s data. So far a good example is Grouptime from Germany. The Germans have some of the strongest data protection legislation in the world, and regular investigate and challenge the policies and practices of Facebook, Google and the like. Grouptime seems to completely anonymize your personal data and use secure encryption and transmission methods. In addition, the messaging app aims to provide an easy to use private messaging and sharing service by default, so the app has a simple privacy concept by design where no complicated settings are required. For further details read one of Grouptime‘s last blog posts how they protect your privacy and data.

Facebook Messenger and iMessage seem to have flaws 

One would think that Apple’s iMessage is generally safe. The recent SMS spoofing issues show that privacy flaws currently exist, and also there have been some other smaller security issues with iMessage in the past. I guess, since iMessage and iCloud are rather new services, these issues will be solved by Apple soon. And one of the good things of iMessage is, that data is transmitted encrypted. However, the question for me is, to what degree my messaging data is really anonymized in Apple’s iCloud? Probably it isn’t encrypted on iCloud.

The Facebook Messenger is also not a good reference for a secure and private messaging app. Well, Facebook alone has already enough flaws when it comes to privacy and data protection. Recently though, it became apparent that Facebook seems to regularly scan your messages for specific keywords.

There are lots of other messaging apps out there. In general, I would say that smaller messaging apps are more likely to have security flaws, that are yet undetected, and that European providers offer better data protection (like e.g. Grouptime). Anyway, SSL encryption (https) should be a standard for messaging apps to provide privacy and security for their users. I will do some more research, and will follow up with more news on that topic in the near term.