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Gone in 60 Seconds: Is the Internet Becoming Volatile?

This blog intends to inform the general public about the impact on the Internet of an increase in the prevalence of self-destructing messaging services.

Almost everyone of us is so happy with more than one genie at hand; as we own a smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc … and a click of a button or a screen-touch can satisfy our cravings from food to knowledge. Also the communication world is never running short of new stuff popping up now and then with tweets, pokes, chats, likes, posts and so on.

Don’t we enjoy a twist in the movies we watch? One has to wonder if the Internet is the next ‘anterograde amnesia’ victim, where an unforeseen whirl takes over social networking services silently.

On one hand, Hadoop technology is booming to handle the exponential growth of data, and spiders are crawling over the internet to feed search engines. But there is a potential balance created by self-destructing communication methods important enough to discuss, as the number of apps and services providing this functionality are increasing with more number of users everyday. In addition the social networking giants’ competing feature is shifting focus from providing nearly unlimited storage space to providing an expiry time on demand. A silent balance is inching toward creating major chunks of the lost internet.

When communicating confidential information over the internet, there is a jolt in us. We think several times, whether we can trust the internet and its services. And for one reason or another, we compromise ourselves with the communication services we get online.

Now, the privacy jolt is taking a noticeable turn because it seems to give more power to the users like data wiping, evidence shredding, and “suicidal messages”. It is not strange for us to regret sending a wrong file or a message to an unintended recipient, for liking a wrong post or comment by mistake too. But it is also important to note that these auto-timed or customisable self-expiring messages are redefining secretive communication.

This trend seems to cure the privacy fever of social media with email bombs, ephemeral messages, auto-expiring tweets, timed chats, self-deleting pokes and much more; from its suffering to hold itself together with features like ‘recall’ or ‘undo’ a sent email, off the record chats, etc.

Such self-destructing email services promise to destroy their path traversed over the servers and the email itself in a prescribed amount of time. These promises are not new to us as we have been relying for years on strong encryption and secure channels.

There is always more than one solution to a problem. Few apps use temporary hyperlinks. Some provide a one-time password to access the timed webpage. The passwords and the websites are not available after the expiry time. Some store the contents temporarily in servers until the message is delivered to all the intended recipients and delete the contents from the servers and from the recipient’s inbox once the message is read. Some use external apps and browser extensions too.

Some apps face issues like screenshots being taken, accessed via different modes instead of viewing the content via the app, and message ID vulnerability hacks on related sites too. Some apps have already fallen victims to cyber forensic studies as they save the images and videos in hidden folders or rename the files to unknown file extensions; because researchers are ready to spend a number of hours and thousands of dollars for their research. But competitors release newer products with upgraded versions which offer more sophisticated artificially-intelligent communication systems.

Cyber criminals use such service widely to communicate their secrets or threaten victims. Of course anyone can use this service for having a legitimate conversation as well. One need not forget self-expiring attachments are also joining hands with this feature which prevents the messages from being copied, forwarded, edited, printed, or saved.

With competitors focusing on providing the self-destruction feature, the following questions certainly arise:

  • Will the internet become erasable?
  • Will social networking become the most secret communication method going forward?
  • Did we just discover invisible data or communication?
  • Will these mortal messages force cybercrime lexicology to accept its demise?
  • Will the expansion of SMS be changed to Short-lived Messaging Service?
  • Will the cyber crime investigators exclaim: “Eureka! But where did the evidence go?”?

Looks like we just have to wait and watch what surprises the future brings.

Images courtesy of:
cdn-media-1.lifehack.org/wp-content/files/2014/04/7557deec.jpg
blog.ericgoldman.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/shutterstock_167170781.jpg

Ayesha Shameena P
Threat Researcher, K7TCL

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