Experts say Telegram’s ’30 engineers’ team is a security red flag

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Telegram, a messaging app used by nearly a billion users worldwide, has long touted its emphasis on privacy and security. However, recent comments by its founder, Pavel Durov, have sparked widespread concern among security experts, questioning the company’s commitment to safeguarding user data.

Durov’s revelation that Telegram employs only "about 30 engineers", including himself as the sole product manager, has raised eyebrows. While he presented this as a testament to the company’s "super efficiency," security specialists warn that such a small staff, particularly with no dedicated chief security officer, is a significant red flag.

"Without end-to-end encryption, huge numbers of vulnerable targets, and servers located in the UAE? Seems like that would be a security nightmare," states Matthew Green, a Johns Hopkins University cryptography expert. This highlights a key issue: Telegram’s default settings do not offer end-to-end encryption. Users must manually activate "Secret Chat" to ensure their messages can only be accessed by the intended recipient. This stands in stark contrast to apps like Signal and WhatsApp, where end-to-end encryption is enabled by default.

Eva Galperin, the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, goes even further, emphasizing the inherent vulnerability of Telegram due to its dual role as a messaging app and a social media platform. "What makes Telegram different (and much worse!) is that Telegram is not just a messaging app, it is also a social media platform. As a social media platform, it is sitting on an enormous amount of user data." This data, including communications not protected by end-to-end encryption, becomes a valuable target for hackers, particularly when considering the limited staff dedicated to cybersecurity.

"‘Thirty engineers’ means that there is no one to fight legal requests, there is no infrastructure for dealing with abuse and content moderation issues," Galperin argues, further raising concerns about Telegram’s ability to respond effectively to threats. She also expresses skepticism about the quality of these engineers, stating, "And I would even argue that the quality of those 30 engineers isn’t that great."

The scarcity of personnel devoted to security is not only an internal issue but also creates immense vulnerability to external threats. "Every attacker loves a profoundly understaffed and overworked opponent," Galperin observes, indicating a potential weakness that could be exploited by criminal or state-sponsored actors.

"Lemme guess, none of these 30 staff include privacy or compliance people, and zero third-party audit is ever done to review potential security controls restricting access to users’ data." JP Aumasson, a well-known cybersecurity expert, highlights the lack of dedicated resources for crucial aspects like privacy and compliance, further emphasizing the potential security risks associated with Telegram’s staffing structure.

This lack of dedicated resources is particularly worrisome given Telegram’s extensive user base and its popularity amongst various groups with specific security needs. The platform serves as a hub for individuals working in the cryptocurrency space, where large sums of money are frequently exchanged. Additionally, it is widely used by extremists, hackers, and those involved in spreading disinformation, making it an attractive target for both malicious actors and government surveillance efforts.

SwiftOnSecurity, another renowned cybersecurity expert, emphasizes the significant cost associated with establishing robust cybersecurity measures: "the cost to run a company that has all the right cyber security tools and staff is absolutely obscene." His observation underscores the potential cost-cutting measures that might have contributed to Telegram’s limited security resources.

While Telegram has remained silent on its security staffing and practices, the lack of a dedicated security team, coupled with its reliance on its own proprietary encryption algorithm, painted a concerning picture for users.

"For years, security experts have warned that people should not see Telegram like a truly secure messaging app. Given what Durov said recently, it may be even worse than experts thought." This statement encapsulates the collective fear among security experts, acknowledging that Telegram’s security shortcomings may be more severe than previously understood.

The recent revelation of Telegram’s limited security team exposes a startling flaw within the platform’s structure. This lack of resources, combined with a reliance on a proprietary encryption system, raises serious questions regarding the effectiveness of its security measures. While Telegram has not adequately addressed these concerns, it remains crucial for users to carefully evaluate the risks associated with using the platform and to consider alternatives that prioritizse privacy and security. Ultimately, it’s essential for users to weigh the convenience of using Telegram against the potential vulnerabilities it presents, and to adopt appropriate security practices to minimize their exposure.

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Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson is a tech enthusiast with over a decade of experience in the industry. She has a knack for identifying the next big thing in startups and has reviewed countless internet products. Emily's deep insights and thorough analysis make her a trusted voice in the tech news arena.