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Cybercrime rapidly maturing: Viber tackles message security

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‘With one billion users globally and some two million in Cambodia alone, Viber is the safest messaging application in the world today,’ Viber CEO Djamel Agaoua told The Post. NATALIA SELIVERSTOVA/SPUTNIK NEWS AGENCY/AFP

Cybercrime rapidly maturing: Viber tackles message security

With data theft becoming one of the greatest cybercrimes in modern history, US-based Cybersecurity Ventures has predicted that it will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021 – up from $3 trillion in 2015.

But it’s not just corporations that become the victims of cybercrimes. Theft of personal data is also included in the figures.

Instant messaging platforms which are widely used to instantaneously send and receive personal and business messages and other data are also at risk, no thanks to the need for information at your fingertips.

So how does the average smartphone user send and receive messages without the fear of hackers intervening in the process?

Speaking to The Post on the sidelines of the Rakuten Viber Asia Summit 2019 in Singapore recently, Viber CEO Djamel Agaoua said: “With one billion users globally and some two million in Cambodia alone, Viber is the safest messaging application in the world today.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Viber CEO Djamel Agaoua.

“This is because of our default encryption method which only one other instant messaging application practises, and that company only has two million users and is based in the US,” he said.

So how does one have an encrypted conversation without it being hacked at any point in time?

Agaoua said the message file circulating in Viber’s servers go to the phone and the “key” to unlock the message is only in the two or more phones involved in the conversation and not with Viber.

“Once the message is delivered, we automatically destroy it. We only keep the footprint of the message like the date it was sent and the phone numbers involved, but not the message content itself.

“This means that even if technology advances to a point where our servers could be unlocked, in the case of Viber, those messages will not be there to be hacked as they would have already been destroyed by default.”

To further prove his point that Viber is the safest instant messaging application in the world, Agaoua said Telegram, for instance, does not activate encryption by default.

“So it claims it is secure but there is a big problem here and we know this at Viber. To put it plainly, if you have to go to the settings, make three or four taps just to activate whatever function you require, 95 per cent of users will not do it.

“So if any feature is not offered by default, then that feature will not be active in 95 per cent of the instant messaging platforms. So Telegram cannot be secure because encryption is not by default,” Agaoua stressed.

As for the possibility of hacking itself, he told The Post that nobody, not even the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) can guarantee their systems cannot be hacked.

“All systems can be hacked. But in the case of Viber, the hacker will only find messages that have not been delivered yet. And that is just a few because 99 per cent of our messages go straight to the phone in an instant as people are connected.

“So, only messages that have not been delivered, for example, because the users are not active anymore, remain in Viber’s systems and if we cannot deliver them after a few tries, then they are destroyed. As for the other messages, we don’t have the keys so even a hacker cannot get to read them.

“In a nutshell, nobody can promise that their servers cannot be hacked. Not even the FBI or CIA can give such an assurance even though we all do our best by employing various technological safeguards.

“What Viber does over and above this to keep our users’ safe is to not keep data or messaging content at all. And this keeps them 100 per cent protected,” Agaoua stressed.

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