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Monday, July 17, 2017

Telegram’s features allow secret communication without detection

The messaging service, which has been blocked in Indonesia, features high-end encryption that makes it impossible to filter every conversation, users say.
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PETALING JAYA: It is impossible for the government to monitor activities on Telegram, which is suspected of being used as a terrorist communications channel, due to the social media application’s robust end-to-end encryption, an IT expert told FMT.
Dig Bijoy Chakraborthy, a business intelligence consultant, said the messaging service app also features an option to allow a message or attachment to “self-destruct” after some time, thus preventing any chance of it being accessed by others.
“With the self-destruct feature, only certain people within a certain period of time can view the attachment until it is deleted from the cloud,” he said.
Chakraborthy also said people’s love for privacy contributed to the popularity of apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.
“When you have end-to-end encryption, all your messages are protected and impossible to decrypt,” he said.
“The person might know who I am having my conversation with but he will not know the content of the conversation.
“That is the beauty of encrypted messaging. There is no way to tell what the message is about unless you do a thorough background check on me,” he said.
Telegram also has a very high limit to the number of users that can join a conversation, making it harder to trace a messaging trail, he added.
Chakraborthy was commenting on the Malaysian government’s decision not to block Telegram in the country as has been done by Indonesia due to concerns that it was being used for terrorism-related activities.
The Russian-designed app allows people to exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000. It has attracted about 100 million users since its launch in 2013.
The service has drawn the ire of critics who say it allows criminals and terrorists to communicate secretly without fear of being tracked by security agencies, as has reportedly been done by Islamic State (IS) militants.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Saturday that the authorities had thus far found that Telegram was not used for terrorist activities or even criminal use in the country.
The home minister said his ministry and the police anti-terrorism unit had studied the matter but found there were no elements on the app to facilitate crimes such as those undertaken by the IS.
“We will not let go of our responsibility to monitor, even though we do not intend to interfere in the private conversations on Telegram. We respect the right to privacy,” he said.
In October 2016, Malaysian police reportedly discovered that IS was using Telegram as the latest medium through which to disseminate its ideology and recruit Malaysians.
Bernama quoted Bukit Aman special branch counter-terrorism division senior assistant director Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay as saying Telegram was among 14 social applications used by IS to connect with the public before recruiting them and arranging their trips to Syria.
Meanwhile, users interviewed by FMT pointed to several features in the application that ensured privacy.
Mokhtar Abdullah, 28, who preferred to use Telegram over WhatsApp, said there was a possibility that the app could be utilised for terrorism or criminal acts.
“WhatsApp can only hold up to 200 users in a group whereas Telegram can have up to 1,000 users,” he said.
“And when you add people in a group, the new users can still refer to the old messages sent prior to their joining the group,” he said, highlighting the strength of information dissemination though Telegram to a large group.
Victor Yap, 27, said he preferred to use Telegram because of its password facility.
“I’m paranoid in a way. Telegram has this password function that only allows people who know the password I’ve set for that particular chat. This keeps away those nosy friends who like to go through your phones,” he said. -FMT

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