Today, these traditional forms of communication are often abandoned in favor of texts and instant messages (IM). Within the U.S., about 95% of adults use mobile phones and over 80% use their phones to send text messages. Whether the message is a “Thank You” or a shopping list, texting and instant messaging are the preferred form of correspondence for many.
While convenient, are texts and IMs safe for everyday use? Moreover, are they a smart choice for conducting judiciary business? As with so many things, it depends….
The good news …TWO instant messaging solutions … already at your fingertips
The judiciary has two secure instant messaging apps: Sametime and Skype for Business. Sametime and Skype for Business are configured to send judiciary IMs exclusively through judiciary networks to ensure they are secure. As nationally supported systems, these are the only tools you should use for “IM’ing” judiciary information.
My cell phone carrier is safe, so texting is safe, right?
Short answer—not necessarily. Text messages are sent through your cell phone carrier’s network without always being protected by encryption. This means, under the right (or wrong) circumstances, a cybercriminal can capture your messages and read them. Play it safe by abstaining from texting sensitive judiciary (or personal information), regardless of whether you are using your judiciary- or personally-owned device. While less risky than using the Internet, there are still concerns so better to err on the side of caution.
Since texting is not always the best idea, how can I use my phone for secure instant messaging?
As processes (and availability) may vary by judiciary unit, consult your local Help Desk to see if Skype for Business can be loaded to your phone. While connected to the VPN, log in to the Skype for Business app. Once logged in, you’re now ready to IM your colleagues … securely!
Beyond work, what should you know? A few words about personal use …
Various instant messaging applications perform the same function as texting while adding protections to keep your messages private. For sensitive personal messages, there are several different messaging apps that allow you to send and receive encrypted texts.
Caveat: Both the sender and the receiver will need the same messaging app for the protection to work. For example, Signal, Viber, and Snapchat—all available on iOS and Android—provide end-to-end encryption and other privacy features.
If you have any additional questions about texting or instant messaging, contact your local IT staff, Circuit IT Security Officer, or ITSO for more information.
1Text messaging (or texting) is a type of real-time chat typically performed on cell phones or other mobile devices.
2Instant messaging (IM’ing) is a type of online chat that offers real-time text transmission over the Internet. Popular IM services include Skype for Business (the preferred IM client of the judiciary), as well as GChat and AIM.
3Pew Research Center: Mobile Fact Sheet
4Pew Research Center: Cell Phone Activities 2013
5Note that Sametime, while still currently supported, is bundled within the IBM product suite (including Lotus Notes), which is being phased out and replaced with the Office 365 suite. Office 365 uses Skype for Business for IMing.
6Access to Skype for Business varies by court, depending on each court’s adoption.
7iMessage, Apple’s iPhone texting solution, differs slightly. iMessages, which are messages between iPhone users, are encrypted. However, if iMessage servers are busy or otherwise fail, messages default to delivery as unencrypted text messages (i.e., SMS format), so users should employ caution before sending sensitive information via iMessage as well.
8To log in to Skype for Business, first launch Pulse Secure, enter your credentials, and verify your identity by accepting the confirmation request with DUO. You can then log in to Skype for Business, after which you will no longer need to be connected to the VPN to use the application. If your session expires, however, you’ll need to connect to the VPN to log in again.