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Spy messenger. How government agents text each other

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Matrix is ​​used by secret agents and government agencies to send and receive top-secret information.

Immediately after the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France in 2017, his team faced a huge problem – their personal correspondence was not sufficiently protected from prying eyes. Throughout their campaign, Macron and his team relied on the power of Telegram, a private messaging app created by Russian dissident Pavel Durov.

After Macron became president, it was necessary to protect his communication with ministers and security officials as much as possible. Although Telegram has strict privacy standards, including multi-level end-to-end encryption (secret chats), these features are not enabled by default, which creates an additional risk for data leakage. More importantly, as flawless as Durov’s app was, the French government didn’t want their messages stored on the servers of a Russian company (or an American company, for that matter, which also precluded the use of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp ).

From the many available solutions, an open source project was found, for which a new end-to-end encryption protocol was developed. It was called Matrix – its developers have offices in London and Rennes (France), which also suited the French government. “This is a rare case where the French and the British manage to work together effectively ," says Matrix co-founder Matthew Hodgson. He and his colleague Amandine started working together on this project back in 2014 as members of the Israeli IT company Amdocs. They wanted to create a messaging system that was decentralized, rather than being run by a single company, which would make it secure by default. Such a system could potentially interact with other platforms for communication.

“We have probably made a successful attempt to create a new open standard for this kind of communication,” says Amandine.

At its core, Matrix is ​​a decentralized repository of conversations, isn’t it a messaging protocol. When you send a message to Matrix, it is replicated to all the servers whose users are in the conversation, much like commits are replicated between Git repositories. In a conversation that spans multiple servers, there is no single point of control. This means that each server has complete sovereignty over the data of its users and it is impossible to find a specific weak point that will affect the entire system.

The picture below shows three Matrix servers with one client connected to each.

Spy messenger. How government agents text each other

All clients participate in the same Matrix room, which is synchronized across the three participating servers.

For more details on how it works, you can see the interactive demo on the official website https://matrix.org.

Anyone can use the Matrix protocol on their servers or participate in chats hosted on other servers. In France, specifically for government correspondence, the government has developed a system focused on several separate servers available to each ministry.

The Matrix architecture seemed attractive to at least three other countries besides France itself, some security and military organizations (including the German army), and large IT corporations such as Mozilla. As of early 2021, the Matrix protocol was used by over 28 million accounts worldwide.

Spy messenger. How government agents text each other

Element messenger interface based on the Matrix protocol

In 2017, Hodgson and a colleague released a Matrix-based application called Element. By the end of 2021, they hope to add a feature to it that will allow users to exchange P2P messages without an Internet connection, creating Bluetooth-enabled mesh networks. "It will be a completely new way of communicating – much easier and simpler than what is available to us now."

According to Wired.

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