Signal founder quits encrypted messaging management


Moxie Marlinspike hands over as messaging opens up to the controversial anonymous and untraceable money transfers.

Moxie Marlinspike shakes hands. The founder of encrypted messaging Signal, which has 40 million monthly users, announced Monday evening that he would step down as leader. “It’s the start of a new year, and I thought it was a good time to give up my place as Signal boss“, He writes on the site of the mobile application. This departure comes as Signal has recently made it possible to send money in a completely untraceable way, a novelty that may attract the attention of regulators.

Moxie Marlinspike indicates having already met candidates for his succession. “But with this announcement, I want to open the field of research to find the best person for Signal’s next decade.In order to concentrate on this recruitment, he temporarily leaves the management of Signal to Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp. After having slammed the door of Facebook in 2017, the latter had made a donation of $ 50 million the following year to the foundation behind Signal.

An expert in cryptography

Cryptographer and computer security expert, Moxie Marlinspike has turned his career towards secure communication systems. His first company, Whisper Systems, designed software to send end-to-end encrypted messages and phone calls: no one except the participants in the conversation can know what is being said and written. It was acquired by Twitter in 2011.

Two years later, the computer scientist created Open Whisper Systems, an open source collaborative project that will give birth to “Signal protocol“. The latter has been used by the Signal application, but also by WhatsApp since 2016. Long confined to a sphere of engineers and people concerned about the protection of their privacy, Signal experienced a boom in popularity in 2020 as a result of ‘a worldwide controversy tarnishing the image of WhatsApp.

Thanks to Brian Acton’s donation, Moxie Marlinspike was able to expand the workforce of Signal, which now has 30 employees, and to discharge many responsibilities. Officially, this forties is withdrawing to rest after a decade spent on Signal. But the American press is questioning its links with the start-up MobileCoin, whose service has just been integrated into Signal. Moxie Marlinspike is a technology advisor for this company.

Signal encrypts the conversations of its users. MobileCoin wants to encrypt money transfers between Internet users. The start-up promises cryptocurrency exchanges that are anonymous, secure, and taking only a few seconds. In other words, it is impossible to know who sent money to whom and for what amount. Since mid-November, MobileCoin’s service has been gradually integrated into Signal, with the option “Payments“. Thousands of transactions are said to take place every day around the world with the exception of the United States, where MobileCoin is not deployed.

Signal’s anonymous payment service Screenshot

Bullet in the foot

Anonymous and untraceable money transfer: MobileCoin’s service has enough to make organized crime and terrorist structures salivate. According to American journalist Casey Newton, Signal employees fear that the courier may have shot themselves in the foot and become a prime target for regulators.

In the United States, in Europe or in India, the police and intelligence forces complain about encrypted messaging which complicates their investigative work. If, for example, WhatsApp provides authorities with data such as “who chatted with whom, at what time, for how long, and from where”, Its technology prevents it from delivering the content of the exchanges. The eavesdropping is therefore impossible, except to hack the phone of a suspect.

Signal like WhatsApp have so far avoided being regulated. “But the arrival of this anonymous money transfer function greatly increases the surface of legal attack, as well as the probability that this service is used for crimes (drug trafficking, sale of child pornography …). This will affect Signal in the courts, with lawmakers and in public opinion.“, Warns Alex Stamos, ex-director of security at Facebook.



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