Messaging: ministers ordered to use the French Olvid application to communicate

2023-11-30 08:01:34

Published on Nov. 30, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. Updated on Nov. 30, 2023 at 9:01 a.m.

After TikTok, it is the turn of WhatsApp and other popular messaging applications to disappear from the phones of French ministers. In a circular dated November 22, the Prime Minister’s office asks members of the government and ministerial offices to install the French application Olvid “to replace other instant messaging services in order to strengthen the security of exchanges.”

“The main general public instant messaging applications (WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram, Signal, Editor’s note) occupy a growing place in our communications”, but “are not devoid of security vulnerabilities”, justify the services of Elisabeth Borne. Secure messaging is in fact a work and communication tool that is increasingly popular with politicians and firms, who love WhatsApp loops to contact journalists in particular.

Since the 2017 presidential campaign, Emmanuel Macron’s entourage is known to make extensive use of the Russian application Telegram. In the circular, Elisabeth Borne asks to “take all measures” to deploy the application – still unknown to the general public – Olvid “by December 8, 2023 at the latest”.

A step forward for “French sovereignty”

“The integration of this solution not only constitutes awareness in terms of cybersecurity, but also a step forward towards greater French sovereignty,” she says. The Minister for Digital, Jean-Noël Barrot, was also delighted with the news about X (formerly Twitter), ensuring he has used the application with his team “since July 2022”.

Olvid was created in 2019 by French cybersecurity experts. Its innovation: the removal of the centralized user directory, in order to achieve maximum security of conversations. Messages are end-to-end encrypted, a practice now common in the industry, but on Olvid, their metadata (who speaks to whom and when) is as well.

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Safety certification

Available for free on Android, iPhone and computer, the application does not require a phone number to register. However, it remains almost unknown to the general public, for whom it does not make things any easier: in the absence of a centralized directory, adding a contact is done by scanning a QR code.

Olvid has obtained very strict certification by the National Information Systems Security Agency (Anssi). It is the only messaging application to have it since September 2020. Cédric Sylvestre, one of the four founders of Olvid, claims to have “more than 100,000 users”, compared to 2 billion for WhatsApp.

This circular “is going in the right direction”, reacted Baptiste Robert, founder of a cybersecurity laboratory. “Professional conversations have no place on apps like WhatsApp or Telegram,” he adds.

In March, the French government had already tried to curb the use of foreign and potentially insecure applications by civil servants. Following in the footsteps of many Western executives and parliaments, he notably banned them from installing the Chinese social network TikTok and, more broadly, “recreational applications”.

Source AFP

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