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ClearChat picks a heavily-encrypted fight with Slack

TechCrunch TechCrunch 5/04/2016 Haje Jan Kamps

Slack has a lot of functions, but end-to-end encryption isn’t one of them, which makes the platform a no-go for some users. Launching to the public today, ClearChat comes along to save the day, serving the needs of the slightly more security-conscious teams, with chat, file transfer and more.

ClearChat describes its service as “a combination of Slack and Dropbox,” except with some heavy-duty encryption and security-first design decisions thrown in. The company’s services have been designed with full end-to-end encryption, which means that the company itself cannot decrypt its customers’ private data, should it, say, get hacked, or receive a particularly grumpy court order from the FBI, CIA, NSA or other TLA.

“You probably wouldn’t buy next year’s iPhone if the advertisement was ‘Great new camera! Plus, we listen in on every call you make and record every text you send!'” explains Brendan Diaz, CEO of ClearChat, aggressively going after companies that, in his opinion, have a less-robust privacy and security stance. “If you’re using apps like Gmail, Skype or Slack this is already happening to you every day.”

Diaz may be onto something here; Slack was already hacked once, and as more and more business-critical information starts moving from shared folders to cloud-based chat rooms, the value of hacking a target like Slack increases by the day.

Positioning itself as an alternative for teams who require privacy and security for compliance purposes — and for groups of people who just have an above-average interest in security — the ClearChat platform has been designed to be impenetrable, even to its own staff.

In particular, the company has analyzed attack vectors against communication platforms, and has made an attempt to design them out of the systems, including robust authentication and verification protocols. By using decentralized encryption, the company has quashed the man-in-the-middle attacks that plague SSL-based encryption. The company has also put particular effort into foiling spoofing and phishing attacks.

ClearChat evolved from Bitmessage, an email-like tool the company’s CTO developed three-plus years ago. Bitmessage is an open-source tool in use by thousands of users monthly, but is aimed at people who have a deeper understanding of tech. ClearChat is a more user-friendly version that’s more like Internet Relay Chat (IRC) — the same tech that inspired Slack.

Slack keeps going from strength to strength with, frankly, ridiculous growth. As a result, it should come as no surprise that there is no shortage of clones and me-too companies that fancy having a go, too. The secret sauce to taking Slack on at its own game is adding something special to the mix; something that will make potential customers sit up and listen. With WhatsApp rolling out encryption across the board, and the FBI/Apple case being at the forefront of people’s minds, the time is definitely ripe for ClearChat — if only people are willing to eschew the convenience and well-developed infrastructure Slack provides and swallow the switching costs to embrace a deeper security paradigm.

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