Pavel Durov, the Russian founder of chat app Telegram, claimed US intelligence agencies tried to persuade him and his company to build backdoors into the Telegram messaging platform.
He claimed on Twitter on Wednesday that US agencies made two attempts to bribe his developers while they were on a one-week trip to the US last year. He also claimed that the FBI put pressure on him personally.
“During our team’s 1-week visit to the US last year we had two attempts to bribe our devs by US agencies + pressure on me from the FBI,” Durov wrote on Twitter. “It would be naive to think you can run an independent/secure cryptoapp based in the US,” he added in another tweet.
Telegram is a messaging app that claims to have over 100 million active users. The company provides a secure space for people to talk in confidence through its “Secret Chats” feature that uses “end-to-end” encryption — an encryption method makes messages unreadable to anyone that isn’t the sender or the receiver.
He added “it would be naive to think” it’s possible to run an encrypted app from within the US.
Durov has also claimed that Signal, Telegram’s biggest rival, has been funded by the US government and that a backdoor is likely to appear within the next five years. This is not the first time that he’s made these unsubstantiated claims and his comments should be treated with caution. It goes without saying that it’s in his interest to talk up his own app above his competitors’.
Intelligence agencies in the US, the UK, France, and other countries claim that they need tech companies like Telegram to stop using end-to-end encryption so that they can see communications between suspected terrorists and other criminals. However, removing end-to-end encryption from communication platforms exposes them to hackers, who can potentially exploit any backdoor created for agencies such as the NSA and GCHQ.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said in November 2015: “To protect people who use any products, you have to encrypt. You can just look around and see all the data breaches that are going on. These things are becoming more frequent. They can not only result in privacy breaches but also security issues. We believe very strongly in end-to-end encryption and no back doors.”
Weakening encryption is back on the UK government’s agenda following a recent flurry of terrorist attacks in the country. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said on the Andrew Marr Show in March it is “unacceptable” that terrorists were using apps like WhatsApp to conceal their communications, and that there “should be no place for terrorists to hide.
“We need to make sure,” she continued, “that organisations like WhatsApp — and there are plenty of others like that — don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate.”
Big Brother Watch on Twitter. “Here we go all over again with demands to scrap encryption. Encryption must not be defined as a zero-sum game.”