Wire Private Messenger is my new favorite encrypted messaging service. It is rapidly replacing Signal in my day-to-day use, though it will be a long time before it replaces Signal entirely. There are a lot of things to recommend this relative newcomer.
The Big Things
Audit: Wire Private Messenger has undergone a third-party security audit. The audit was paid for by Wire but conducted by an independent third-party. It examined Wire’s encryption protocol, Proteus, and implementations for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and Wire for Web. Though some low- and medium-severity vulnerabilities were discovered, an security audit is truly a rarity and gives me a good degree of confidence in the app. The report is available HERE.
Accessibility: Unlike the vast majority of encrypted messengers, Wire is almost totally cross-platform. Wire Private Messenger is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. If you don’t want to install Wire, it is also available through a web login as “Wire for Web”. This is in bold contrast to Signal, which requires you to install Google Chrome if you want to use it on your desktop. Also, Wire’s desktop app supports Wire’s full feature set – not just texting.
Username: Unlike Signal, you don’t have to provide a phone number to set up the Wire Private Messenger app†. If you do choose to give it a phone number, you don’t have to share this with all of your contacts. Instead, you get to make up a username. This is a major upgrade over Signal.
†If you create your account from a mobile device you are required to give a phone number. I recommend creating your account from a desktop computer.
Encrypted Text, Voice, and Video: Other encrypted messaging applications offer encrypted voice, video, and text. However, most do not offer it from the desktop. This is a huge advantage. Another major advantage is group calling, a feature I haven’t seen on any other encrypted calling app.
The Little Things
Expiring Messages: Like most other encrypted messaging apps, Wire offers ephemeral messages. Messages can be set to destruct in the following intervals: 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 1 day.
App Protection: You can protect the mobile app with Touch ID or a passcode, a feature I am still waiting for with Signal.
iOS Integration: Wire permits, but does not require, iOS integration. This gives you a number of cool features. It allows the use of iOS’s CallKit which gives a Wire call the same precedence as a regular telephone call. It also allows you to share a webpage, podcast, or a location through your browser, podcast app, or Maps, respectively.
Interface: The Wire GUI is seriously polished. There are a ton of little features that make this look like a modern messenger rather than an iMessage retread. The notification sound is unobtrusive and notifications on all versions can be customized to exlude sender name or message content (or both). Senders can be muted or totally blocked.
The Not-So-Great Things
Username: Yes, this is in the pros and cons section. I think this is a “pro” feature because it requires a username and password. Done poorly, this could be a major, exploitable weakness; if it is spilled it could be used to log into the web interface. Though conversation history does not appear in the browser for a first-time login, contacts do. This could be used to impersonate one of your contacts. It is imperative that you use a strong password with your Wire account!
Expiring Messages: My only real complaint with Wire is the way expiring messages work. If they are turned on, your messages do not transfer to other devices. If I am chatting with John on my phone and later log into Wire on my computer, I will see John’s messages across all devices. However, the messages I sent to John will only appear on the device from which I sent them. Expiring messages must also be set per conversation across all devices. One feature I would love to see is the ability to turn expiring messages on globally instead of requiring that each conversation be setup individually on every device. Wickr definitely had it right with this feature.
How I Use Wire Private Messenger
I mentioned that Wire is beginning to replace Signal as my go-to for the reasons listed above. First, it’s secure. Second, it offers features comparable with most insecure alternatives. Finally, I don’t have to give out my number (or a GVoice number I may one day lose) and I can use it on any device without installing a Google product. But will it replace Signal fully? Honestly, I doubt it – at least for the foreseeable future.
Wire is the messenger I use with other privacy geeks. I kind of look at Wire as the professional’s encrypted messenger. It has a ton of features, but it’s also a little harder to use. I’m not going to ask someone who doesn’t use a password manager to install it because I don’t trust them to use a strong password. With Signal they don’t have to use a password, but their Signal account isn’t vulnerable to a web login attack. So I’m hanging on to Signal for now. You know, for the norms.