For Mission Impossible fans, those words emanating from a reel-to-reel tape were an invitation to adventure. For email administrators, they could be an ominous warning.
Most folks know what happens when the tape delivering that message ends. It self destructs.
What if employees could create emails, messages, photos and multimedia messages that self-destructed? What’s more, what if they could do it on applications that run on their own devices. That would add a new dimension of scary to an enterprise’s Bring Your Own Device policy.
Such programs have begun showing up in online app stores. A program called Snapchat allows the sender of a photo to limit its lifespan to whomever it’s sent to. If the recipient of the picture tries to subvert the time limit by taking a screen grab of the photo, the program will alert the sender of the action.
Snapchat, though, is a toy compared to Wickr. “The Internet is forever,” the promo for the app proclaims. “Your private communications don’t need to be.”
The free Wickr app boasts military-grade encryption of text, picture, audio and video messages. It lets a sender control who can read messages, where they can be read and for how long. It also claims to have the best file shredding capabilities on a mobile phone.
According to Wickr’s developers, the program deletes all metadata from pictures, video and audio files — data such as device info, location and any personal information captured during the creation of a file.
Wickr also promises to preserve its users anonymity. It doesn’t even require them to associate an email address to their accounts.
The implications to companies of programs like Snapchat and Wickr should make administrators anxious. Companies need to control the life expectancy of their data for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is compliance with state and federal laws and regulations. An app like Wickr could make such control difficult.
It shouldn’t be surprising that, according to Wickr’s makers, its app has gained a popular following among physicians and lawyers — occupations where privacy and confidentiality are very important.
Wickr and Snapchat are child’s play, however, compared to what DARPA has planned in the self-destruction department. It has begun soliciting proposals for its Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program.
VAPR is DARPA’s solution to the problem of high-tech gear being left on the battlefield or captured by the enemy. According to the agency, it wants to revolutionize the state of the art in transient electronics or electronics capable of dissolving into the environment around them.
It explains that transient electronics developed under VAPR should maintain the current functionality and ruggedness of conventional electronics, but, when triggered, be able to degrade partially or completely into their surroundings. Once triggered to dissolve, these electronics would be useless to any enemy who might come across them.
“DARPA is looking for a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed,” DARPA Program Manager Alicia Jackson observed in a statement. “The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature.”