Just how Stealthy is Self-Destructing StealthText?

There’s a new text messaging service that promises that the messages you send automatically self-destruct, thereby stopping any secret (or indeed saucy) messages falling into the wrong hands – but anyone considering the service should check the fine print.

It’s not exactly being held up as the answer to the need for ultra-secure, highly encrypted messaging, to be fair, so let’s not take this too seriously. But the company is pitching the service at business people (as well as celebs), so it makes sense to know just what level of security it is going to give you, and where it could still leave your ‘secret’ messages vulnerable.

The inventor of StealthText – a British company called Staellium – says it will particularly appeal to celebrities and business executives, as it allows you to “send a text message safely in the knowledge that it will delete itself from the recipient’s mobile phone as soon as the person has read it – ultimately, allowing the sender control of their own information.”

“Until now, mobile phone users have had to rely on recipients to delete sensitive text messages on their behalf,” the company behind the new service explains, “although a number of high profile cases (Rebecca Loos), have shown that this cannot always be relied on. However, by simple [sic] keying in a code, StealthText users can rest assured that the message goes up in smoke, just like the famous tapes scenes in the Mission Impossible series.”

But don’t be fooled. StealthText does not necessarily guarantee that the family secret, illicit affair or confidential business data that you send via text is somehow completely safe from unwanted eyes.

The most obvious point is that although the text message you send will self-destruct after the recipient has read it, there’s nothing to ensure that the person reading it was the intended recipient – if someone else picks up or borrows the recipient’s phone, they could read your secret missive before it self-destructs.

The problem is that you don’t need to be a StealthText subscriber to read a message that you have been sent via StealthText – so anyone could read a ‘secret’ message if the phone falls into the wrong hands, and that message has not already been read. Sure, once it’s been read then the message will self-destruct, but the damage could already have been done, depending exactly what the message contains – “thnx again 4 last night”, or “can’t w8 2 c u again soon” might cause some embarrassment even if you don’t know who the sender is.

Equally, if someone receives a StealthText and they are not already a StealthText subscriber, they can reply to your message using normal SMS (if they are a subscriber they can reply in StealthMode instead). Their standard SMS reply has no security on it of any kind, so if in the mean time your phone has fallen into the wrong hands, ‘private’ messages could again be compromised. For example, someone hits reply and types, “Me 2, u were gr8!”

Finally, there is the issue of your phone bill, if you receive one that is itemised. Each time you send a StealthText to a colleague, friend, B-list celeb or anyone else for that matter, a charge of 50 pence to the number 80880 will appear on your phone bill. That could raise eyebrows if someone else sees your bill, and if they happen to know the significance of a whole load of charges against 80880. Still, if they do confront you over them, perhaps you could try the defence, “How do you know that 80880 is a StealthText charge, hmmm?”

The company offering the service can be found at http://www.stealthtext.net. Just don’t say you weren’t warned. I might use the service if I was a celeb sending a raunchy text to a nanny who I knew for a fact lived alone, but I wouldn’t use it for anything else – certainly not for seriously confidential business messages.

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