Signal Private Messaging App Gains Popularity in Wake of Hacking Scandals

Source: Final Download


Signal, a smartphone app that allows users to send encrypted messages, is gaining popularity in the political world amid rising fears about hacking and surveillance in the wake of a tumultuous election year.

Political aides close to President Donald Trump, former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are users. So are some close to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Some say the legion of political types has a singular goal to avoid a repeat of the WikiLeaks scandal, in which the emails of Mrs. Clinton and her closest allies were dumped onto the internet.

“Everybody learned the lessons of the Clinton campaign when it came to communicating about sensitive issues over email,” one former senior aide to Mr. Obama said. “No one wants to see that happen again.”

Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump, is on the app.

“I learned my lesson when my email got hacked in September. It was hell,” Mr. Stone said in an email. He said 30 years of contacts were destroyed and his personal and business bank accounts were compromised.

“I realized I needed a safer encrypted way to communicate—and NO I have never communicated with any Russians on Signal.”

Built by the San Francisco-based Open Whisper Systems, Signal is based on end-to-end encryption in which only those in direct communication can read the messages.

Signal has seen a roughly 400% increase in downloads since Election Day last November, said founder Moxie Marlinspike. He declined to say how many people use the app.

“It’s funny,” Mr. Marlinspike said. “In the past, people asked, ‘Are you worried terrorists are using it?’ Now they’re asking about politicians.”

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he has had the app for a few weeks. “One of my cybersecurity experts downloaded it for me,” Mr. Giuliani said.

Current and former senior aides to Mr. Cuomo also have the app. So do City Council members Daniel Garodnick, David Greenfield and Corey Johnson. Other users are Howard Wolfson and Marc La Vorgna, aides to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Nearly a dozen officials or aides close to Mr. de Blasio are on the app, including press secretary Eric Phillips; Nisha Agarwal, who serves as commissioner for the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; and Dan Levitan, a political adviser.

 Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union, an ethics group, said he understood why politicians and their aides would seek to avoid a repeat of the WikiLeaks scandal. But he said that by using apps like Signal, they also could be keeping conversations private that should be made public under freedom of information laws.

“There are consequences to our democracy when public officials or their aides are resorting to keeping their conversations private in this way,” Mr. Dadey said.


Mara Gay

26 January 2017

The Wall Street Journal

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