Month: October 2013


Is Texting Secure?

TextingOrigins of Texting

Texting has become the go to method of communication for a lot of people.  SMS stands for Short Message Service and development on the standards began in the early 1980’s.  For more about this, see Wikipedia.  The first text message ever sent was in 1992 from a computer to a handset and read “Merry Christmas.”

Most systems handle SMS’s in a “store and forward” methodology.  This means that the message is stored and attempts are made to send the message.  If the message doesn’t go through, it is queued for later delivery.  Some systems use a “forward and forget” method that once the delivery is attempted, the message is forgotten.  There is no guarantee that a message will go through; in fact, studies show that between 1% and 5% of messages never get delivered.  Others are delivered long afterwards.  Most of us have experienced a message we sent and the receiver never got – or they got it a day or two later.  When sending a message that just has to get there, a follow-up may be a good idea to be sure it arrived.

Why the curious 160 character limit?  SMS’s are sent via an informational protocol that is used to determine signal strength.  This protocol is limited to 140 octets or 1120 bits.  If a 7-bit character set is used then the limit is 160 characters, and if an 8-bit set is used then the limit is 140 characters.  Longer messages either use multiple messages to send or change the method of the send to a MMS or multimedia message that uses an entirely different send method.

Texting Security

How Secure is texting?  The communication between your phone and your network provider is secured but it is also traveling through the air via radio waves and can be intercepted.  Gaining access to your data stream is probably not something your average hacker is going to do but at some level the capacity to intercept and decrypt your calls and texts from the radio signal is there.  Text messages are not encrypted while on the servers of the network provider and they can be accessed as long as they are stored.  According to a document from the Justice Department, the content of text messages are only stored for the time it takes to deliver them.  On average that is 3-5 days for Verizon and zero days for T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint.  Text message details or meta data on the other hand is stored for much longer periods of time, Verizon 1 year, T-Mobile 2-5 years,  AT&T 5-7 Years and Sprint 1.5-2 years.  This data is the who, when, and where but not the what.

With the revelation of snooping by the NSA, there is a lot of clamoring for methods of securing communication.  A company named Wickr has developed apps for both iOs and Android that allow for encrypted texting.  If you need a secure method of texting you might want to check out their product.