App encrypts texts, calls Co. vets customersto stem illegal use

Trade secrets are supposed to stay secret, but that doesn’t mean they can only be mentioned in whispers in a dark parking garage.

A new app being developed in Cambridge aims to let companies safely talk about sensitive information the way normal people do: with texts and phone calls.

“We’re targeting the high end, the guys who have the most valuable information around M&A deals, the things that could damage stock price,” said Joe Boyle, co-founder and chief operating officer of SaltDNA. “There are a lot of people who are highly motivated and highly skilled at being able to get this.”

The app, which launched last week, is designed to work like any other instant message and phone app. But under the surface, every communication uses high-level encryption to make sure it can’t be intercepted and understood.

Unlike secure messaging apps targeted to consumers, SaltDNA is built to let an administrator control who employees can talk to.

SaltDNA also lets users make messages automatically delete after a set time if the conversation is particularly sensitive.

Boyle said the company already has customers using the service, including some in the oil industry.

Those users spend significant time in countries with less-than-trustworthy telecom operators, so someone trying to negotiate a sale may be worried sensitive information like the value of an oil field may fall into the wrong hands.

SaltDNA is moving its headquarters from Belfast, Ireland, to Cambridge, and is backed by $3 million in venture funding, including from Cambridge-based venture firm Accomplice.

“While consumer products have started to add encryption protections, enterprise mobile messaging still needs to catch up,” said Chris Lynch, a venture capitalist with Accomplice.

Apps that offer encrypted communication have come under fire this week after it was revealed the services were being used by ISIS.

Last week, app-maker Telegram said it shut down 78 ISIS-related chat “channels” on its app, spanning 12 languages.

The company said the terrorist group was using the app to “spread propaganda.”

That won’t be an issue for SaltDNA, Boyle said, because every potential customer is vetted.

“What we are really concerned about is preventing illegal organizations getting their hands on our technology,” Boyle said.

He said there is a possibility the service could be used to hide unscrupulous behavior, but said there is no way to prevent misbehavior if someone has their heart set on evading regulators or skirting laws.

“If they’re going to misbehave, I don’t think we or anyone can prevent them from using it,” he said. “All we can really do is control who uses the system, we can’t really control how they use it.”



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