Keybase takes on Slack with new end-to-end encrypted team messaging tool

Keybase Teams is one of a variety of collaboration tools that sees secure communications options as a selling point.

Credit: Keybase

Keybase has unveiled a Slack-style team messaging service that promises to protect private communications with end-to-end encryption.

The company launched in 2015 with the aim of making encryption technology more accessible to consumers. Its latest service, Keybase Teams, has a look similar to Slack with features such as chat rooms and channels. Admins can add set up groups of users to work on a particular project, and encrypted files can be uploaded and shared.

An early release version of the software is now available for download for desktops and mobile devices. 

The key advantage, Keybase said, involves enhanced security and privacy.

End-to-end encryption means that only the sender and receiver of a message can view the information being shared. The goal is to prevent ‘man in the middle’ attacks and block any third parties from viewing the data.

Most of the popular team messaging tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams encrypt data at rest and in transit, rather than end-to-end. Cisco, however, has already added full encryption to its Spark platform. 

In a blog post, Keybase said that end-to-end encryption is important as it “means you don't have to worry about server hacks. Alternatively, you can lie awake at night...fearing a breach of your company's messaging history. What if your team's history got stolen from Slack and leaked or published?”

Keybase said its messaging tool will not just protect communications from external snooping, but also block sub-teams in the same organization from gaining access to private information. The company cited work involving, for example, a devops team and board of directors: “From passing around technical secrets to discussing more tender business dealings, these groups will want data that can't be decrypted by others inside their own company.”

Keybase is one of several companies that have launched messaging tools with end-to-end encryption. Others include Wire, ClearChat and Symphony, which is targeted at financial sector users.

While the likes of Slack have invested heavily in secure communications, apps such as Keybase could provide an alternative for specific cases where privacy is paramount.

“This could be a profitable niche,” said Raúl Castañón-Martínez, senior analyst at 451 Research. “Applications like Keybase, in my opinion, are emerging as a distinct subcategory within the larger messaging and collaboration umbrella.

“I expect that products like Slack will continue to enhance their level of security, but applications like Keybase will play a role to address specific use cases that are outside the scope of Slack." 

These apps will appeal not only to firms operating in highly regulated sectors, but any area of a business where privacy is important.

“Organizations of all sizes and across different industries handle sensitive information that require a high level of privacy and security, including those related to intellectual property, financial reports, legal discussions, R&D and M&A,” Castañón-Martínez said.

Though security is important for large businesses, it is just one the many considerations for customers when rolling out a collaboration platform.

“Security is certainly one of the things enterprise buyers are concerned about, but not the only deciding factor,” said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. “Items such as administration capabilities, integration and scalability, as well as user experience are all important factors.”

The alpha version of Keybase Teams is now available as desktop app for macOS, Linux and Windows, alongside support for iOS and Android mobile devices. Keybase will keep the service free for personal use, but expects to charge businesses, should the application begin to gain traction.

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