Updated 01:22 AM EDT, Tue, Oct 27, 2020

CyanogenMod Android Users Will Soon Have Automatic Perfect Forward Secrecy Encryption for All Text Messages

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(Photo : CyanogenMod)

CyanogenMod is continuing to gain steam as a cult Android firmware provider, and it's about to add another feather to its alternative-Android cap: Fully encrypted text messaging by default.

A small startup, called Open WhisperSystems has offered a free, open source, smartphone app that offers user-to-user encryption for SMS and MMS text messages for a few years. Now, according to WhistperSystems' blog announcement, the encryption system, called TextSecure, will now be baked into CyanogenMod as the default text messaging function of the world's most popular independent custom Android firmware system.

TextSecure sends messages invisibly encrypted with a key that is not accessible to phone carriers or software companies, and it works automatically between any Android smartphones and/or iPhones that have the app installed. For more security, TextSecure's encryption keys are one-time-use only and unique for each message, so that even if encrypted data were vacuumed up by a government agency or other party, they would have to obtain a key for each individual message in order to decrypt them. This is called Perfect Forward Secrecy, and it's becoming a popular security standard in the wake of National Security Agency spying revelations, though Apple's messaging service, for example, doesn't use it.

In addition, because the app actually uses a smartphone's data connection to send the text message, carriers cannot detect whom the recipient of the message is, meaning that there's less "metadata" - information about the sender and recipient of a message - to collect. Using the data connection instead of the carrier signal also has the happy outcome that those text messages are not counted towards a text message limit on your cellphone plan. The cybersecurity community, who can easily look at TextSecure's open source code and verify that it lives up to its claims, has positively reviewed the app, according to Forbes.

Being integrated into CyanogenMod means that TextSecure's messaging security will soon apply to millions of Android users automatically. CyanogenMod says baking it into their OS means that they "can extend the encrypted messaging functionality to nearly any SMS application you decide to use."

CyanogenMod, for those who haven't heard of the cult, is an aftermarket, open source, custom firmware distribution system and app that helps non-techies flash their smartphones and install custom "ROMs", or specialized versions of the Android operating system.

It's a boon for people who want to try out new Android versions but and are tired of waiting for their phone's manufacturer or carrier to launch the upgrade, or just want to try custom versions of Android without going through the complicated, and risky, process of rooting their devices. (If done incorrectly by hand, new users can end up voiding their warranty and bricking their device, rendering it useless.)

CyanogenMod, despite being asked to withdraw from the Google Play Store shortly after it launched, is available online and is growing its following quickly. With more than 10 million users and about 20,000 installs per day, CyanogenMod is becoming a force in mobile operating systems - even being included as a pre-loaded OS choice on a new smartphone - and is on track to begin rivaling Microsoft as the third largest smartphone OS distribution.

Making the aftermarket independent Android firmware system even more attractive, CyanogenMod just released the first version of the cutting-edge Android 4.4 KitKat for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which was not going to be officially supported by Google for that update. Other builds of Android 4.4 KitKat are also reportedly on the way from CyanogenModders.

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