Google’s Messages app might get cross-platform chat encryption in the future. the company is announcing adoption of an end-to-end encryption system known as Messaging Layer Security or MLS. It will allow the Google platform to connect and exchange messages with external messaging applications that also support MLS (through 9to5Google).
Want to send a group chat message and have it appear securely and seamlessly on other people’s devices in their favorite chat apps? That’s the future that European regulators are pushing: getting tech companies to implement end-to-end encryption that allows users to send messages securely between platforms.
Meaningful interoperability would require all major companies to endorse the same standard, and MLS now seems to have one of the biggest on its side. Google also supports the carrier-backed end-to-end encrypted messaging system known as RCS. For a while, RCS didn’t have adequate security for group chats, but Google is now releasing a version that does (that doesn’t use MLS).
One big problem that MLS can solve is better encryption for group messages. An Oxford article published in 2017 He pointed out security concerns about how some major messaging apps, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Google Allo (RIP), could intercept group messages if only one member is compromised. So the researchers designed an “asynchronous ratchet tree” that makes end-to-end group messaging even more secure, and MLS was built with that idea in mind.
The MLS protocol is developed by a standards organization called the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The body newly approved publication of the MLS specification (RFC 9420) in March and has tested draft versions in Webex and RingCentral chats.
Google is moving to place its open source MLS implementation in the Android codebase, but did not say when this would happen. It also did not specify how or if RCS messages, which Google has championed externally for more than a year, will work with MLS-based encryption. Google continues to shame Apple for not supporting RCS, which is now available to over 800 million Android users. Whether other tech companies will “get the message” with MLS remains to be seen.