Facebook Messenger Encryption: Thumbs Up for Enterprise Messaging?

October 4, 2016
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3 min read

The enterprise messaging revolution has come and gone. Enterprise messaging today simply stands as an embedded force driving business. Real-time communication for fast answers, calendar syncing, vivid video meetings and collaboration for seamless revisions don’t simply homogenize past tools — they also revolutionize them.

While some still consider enterprise message platforms, such as Slack and Skype for Business, to be nothing more than text-based, interruptive static, the factual fervor can’t be denied. eWEEK reported that 80 percent of business professionals currently use texting for business and more than one-third can’t go 10 minutes without responding to a text. Nearly 70 percent think organizations should use text messaging to communicate with employees, according to EZ Texting.

With stats like these, new tools flooding the market every day and users who are used to instant communication entering the workforce, we are well past the time for security maturity in the enterprise messaging market.

Enterprise Messaging Engenders Shadow IT

In today’s world of self-procured devices and ease of acquisition, we can only guess how many terabytes of data have passed through unmanaged and unsecured channels. Before corporate options for enterprise messaging were wildly available, business was conducted via bring-your-own-device (BYOD) texting.

Many corporate messaging apps began as free consumer downloads for the sake of stickiness in a nascent market. Today, ease of use if the primary culprit behind shadow IT messaging. Employees don’t communicate via WhatsApp for belligerence’s sake — they do it because, frankly, it’s easier than opening another app.

Facebook Messenger and Encryption

One of the easiest messaging apps to use is Facebook Messenger. The social superpower currently has close to 2 billion active monthly users, many of whom not only use the messaging app, but actually covet its quick-click access. While it’s easy for end users, many IT professionals have justified concerns about Facebook as a business tool, particularly regarding its lack of encryption.

Facebook’s decision to forgo encryption is unusual, since most collaboration tools, even free ones, have used cryptokeys since the technology’s inception. Even WhatsApp, used mainly for international outreach, came with built-in encryption when Facebook bought the company in 2014.

Facebook finally began testing an encryption capability in July. According to Facebook’s newsroom, Facebook Messenger users can now enter secret conversations that are encrypted end-to-end. The application’s heightened security will undoubtedly influence IT professionals to reconsider the merits of Facebook Messenger for business use.

Do Secret Conversations Scale for Business?

While encryption is a security standard, it’s not the sole panacea of protection for large organizations. Here are a few thoughts on why mature enterprise messaging needs more muscle than what Facebook Messenger’s secret conversations currently deliver:

Forget Cross-Device Communication

Business professionals are used to conducting conversations across several devices. An employee can, for example, start a conversation on a laptop, receive a response on a smartphone at the gym and finally finish it off on a tablet while reading the news before bed.

Secret conversations on Facebook Messenger, on the other hand, only accommodate one device. They are truly and purely encrypting the message, not the application itself. This is all by design, and it’s probably the right choice for a platform made for all age groups.

In today’s business world, however, professionals need instant access to information, not a separate application to simply remember the last device from which a message was sent.

Text Is the Limit

While animated GIFs and emojis aren’t a top business concern, file sharing and collaboration have become staples of mature offerings. For the time being, secret conversations begin and end with texting. While this is a wistful journey down memory lane for those who were around at the dawn of short message service (SMS), we’ve become spoiled by ability to send rich media as bandwidth pipelines opened up over the past few years. Younger employees might feel limited by the text-only standard.

Missing Management Controls

As soon as workers launched the BYOD revolution, IT professionals began seeking ways to ensure the safety of corporate data with mobile device management (MDM) and, later, enterprise mobility management (EMM). Enterprise messaging should not be immune to a wipe or block should a device suddenly go missing or end up otherwise compromised.

Tools such as Microsoft Link and Skype for Business can be easily integrated with EMM solutions to help IT professionals quickly onboard new employees to the corporate chat standard and remove those top secret chats when the worst happens.

Rob Patey
Storyteller/Dreamweaver, IBM

Rob has been waxing poetic about IT topics since the late 90s for technology organizations large and small. While career and life have given him a journey th...
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