Is privacy something you value on your smartphone? Most of us assume some level of inconspicuousness while using any number of electronic devices. From cell phones and Internet browsers to desktop computers and software, the information we send and receive on a daily basis is actually a lot less secure than you may realize. And that’s okay, for most of us.
Most of us don’t need super tight, military-grade security on our devices. For most people, security can be managed using encryption software, firewalls, passwords and so on. But even still, the security of our most basic communications, like texting, can be compromised. That is, until now.
Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a text messaging system called Vuvuzela—a system they believe almost guarantees a user’s privacy and anonymity.
How Does Vuvuzela Work?
Here’s how it works: the system sends different encrypted messages to three different servers designed to unwrap the encryption one at a time. For anyone attempting to intercept these messages the process is made far more difficult. However, successful interception of one of the three messages can still reveal information about the sender and the intended recipient.
Vuvuzela takes the process one step further by sending out decoy messages from each server after a communication has been transmitted. These messages are encrypted and sent to other secure destinations. Moreover, this process repeats itself every time a message is received, creating a massive amount of traffic and noise.
This noise is precisely what protects these messages—it also birthed the name Vuvuzela, which comes from popular noise-making devices used by fans at sporting events. The idea is pretty simple: make an online environment so loud no one can make sense of it.
The new security system comes to light just as another recedes into the shadows. In Dec. 2015, Tor (the onion router), an anonymity tool used on the Dark Web, was hacked by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in alleged collaboration with the FBI.
The nature of the research is still shrouded in mystery, but the online software that promised Dark Web users discreteness wound up getting a bunch of people arrested and several websites disbanded.
Vuvuzela may be the anonymity tool that was promised by Tor—except, this time, it might actually work.
It’s hard to say if technology like Vuvuzela is really necessary for everyday communications like texting—unless you’re Edward Snowden. Some people don’t even like the idea of complete anonymity on the web, period. And still others suggest it’s the only way to maintain a truly democratic online space.
Either way, knowing more about where security breakdowns occur on our personal devices is a lot better than being completely in the dark. For people that text (which is pretty much everyone), unless you plan on using a security system like Vuvuzela, know that these messages can be intercepted rather easier by a person (or government agency) with the correct tools and wherewithal.