Yesterday we took a look at Signal, and today we come to Part 3 of our Secure Messenger reviews with our thoughts about Threema.

Threema  started life as an abbreviation: "EEEMA", meaning "End-to-End Encrypted  Messaging Application". The three "E"s were a bit unwieldy, so it  became "Threema".

Threema uses the trusted open source NaCl  cryptography library for encryption. The encryption keys are generated  and safely stored on user's devices to prevent backdoor access or  copies.

We raised a few issues about Signal, and to be fair we  also have some complaints about Threema as well. Other than the actual  encryption, the rest of Threema is not open source. This is usually a  big issue when it comes to trust, but it has to be said that Threema's  source code has been independently audited.

Another  issue is when you have created a group but at a later stage you want to  switch devices. Since the encryption happens on your device only, you  won't be able to continue with that group on another device. Even if you  switch your identity over to another phone (this option exists), it  still won't help.

Threema also shares the same belief with Signal  that Google services are the way to go when it comes to push  notifications. However, unlike Signal, Threema offers a way around this.  Under settings / troubleshooting you can select Polling and Polling  interval (5/15 out of 30 minutes). Threema will then poll the messages  from the server just like IMAP polling without push. Our experience was  that we still received almost instant notifications. This is great!

Threema  costs 2 CHF or an equivalent amount in either USD or EUR. You are not  forced to rely upon Google Play or the Amazon store as you can purchase  the APK directly at the Threema Shop with Bitcoin. This is what we did,  installing Threema on a BlackBerry Passport and it works like a charm.

When  you start Threema for the first time, you move your finger around the  screen to generate your 8 digit Threema ID. This is a truly  "decentralized" type of ID as it is generated away from any server. To  sign up for Threema you need neither phone number nor email address, a  unique feature which allows users to remain 100% anonymous. If you want  to, there is an option to enter your email and phone number in your  profile which will allow friends to find you. However, we recommend just  to run with the Threema ID only.

To ensure maximum security, both  the connection between the app and the servers and the one between the  parties communicating with each other are encrypted separately. The  former is especially important as anyone capturing network packets (on  public wifi for instance) can't figure out who is messaging to whom.

Users  have total control over key exchange with encryption and decryption  staying on their device only. The server operators or any other party  are therefore unable to decrypt messages.

"Strength of the  encryption: The asymmetric ECC based encryption used by Threema has a  strength of 255 bits. According to a NIST estimate (page 64), this  corresponds at least with the strength provided by 2048 bit RSA. ECDH on  Curve25519 is used in conjunction with a hash function and a random  nonce to derive a unique 256 bit symmetric key for each message, and the  stream cipher XSalsa20 is then used to encrypt the message. A 128 bit  message authentication code (MAC) is also added to each message to  detect manipulations/forgeries.

Forward secrecy: Threema provides  forward secrecy on the network connection (not on the end-to-end layer).  Client and server negotiate temporary random keys, which are only  stored in RAM and replaced every time the app restarts. An attacker who  has captured the network traffic will not be able to decrypt it even if  he finds out the long-term secret key of the client or the server after  the fact."

The auditing agency which Threema have employed, attested in their report as follows:

• Threema's concepts meet the requirements for truly secure and trustworthy messaging.
• The application of the encryption is correct and implemented as documented by Threema.
• The used protocols are free of vulnerabilities.
• The app's local data is stored in a safe and secure manner.
• The server components only store data that is absolutely necessary for message delivery.
• The servers are located in Switzerland.

Every  message gets deleted from Threema's server the moment it has been  delivered to your device. Again, encryption takes place on your device.  This makes Threema one of the best, if not the greatest messenger option  around. You can also protect your actual app with a PIN, or on iOS with  the Touch ID. (Apple claims that your fingerprints never reach the  icloud but although there is no proof of this, let's just assume it is  true). Additionally, you select an encryption password which is used to  encrypt the messages on your device.

All this effectively prevents the collection and misuse of your personal information, including meta data.

A  nice feature is the Poll capability. This allows you to create unique  polls and lets your group vote on things. There is an option for voice  messages but it should be kept in mind that Threema doesn't offer a  calling feature.

For further privacy, Threema allows you to turn  off the "message read" and "typing" indicators. In other words if you  don't want the other party see that you have read their message or that  you are typing a reply, these indicators won't be shown.

You can  also Mute individual notifications (per member) or switch off group  notifications. In addition, you can block a member entirely and never  receive any notifications or text from him ever again. You can add  members and remove members of a Group at any time as the administrator  of the group.

Enter anyone's Threema ID then you can start to text  to them. Next to both of your names there will be a red dot which means  neither of you is verified. Should you later meet up in real life, you  can scan each other's QR codes and the red dots turn to green indicating  verification.

Threema also has the option to block some of the  contacts which are texting to you. In other words, if someone knows your  Threema ID but you never exchanged the QR code or a key fingerprint, he  won't be able to text you. If you enter his ID manually and he enters  yours manually he will be able to text you as you both have exchanged  your ID (not verified with a red dot). This also prevents a  man-in-the-middle attack. You can select an option wherein everyone who  knows your Threema ID can text to you. This is very practical should you  want to post your ID on a website.

To give further confidence to  users, Threema's servers are located in Switzerland. But even if the  servers are compromised it is reassuring to know that your encrypted  communications could still not be read. Moreover, your messages are only  on the server until they are delivered to your device. After that they  are deleted.

If Threema were to be totally open source, it would  be the ultimate messaging app. However we need to rely on the auditor's  report and so we have a link below with the full information. There were  in fact 2 independent teams who looked over Threema's claims and the  source code.

Threema is great, and we use it and rely on it daily.  They have recently brought out a new version with a fun "agree or  disagree" feature for your incoming messages. Chat groups are increased  to 50 members and if you are involved in several different chats at the  same time, you can mute notifications for one or more of the chats.  Individual notification sounds for each chat group are also available.

Threema Audit Report
Threema Whitepaper

Next:  we will be taking a look at BBM protected and the day after that we  will have a conclusion as to which of the 3 messengers really offers the  best in features and security.

Share this post