Amazon’s cloud services giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) is getting into the encrypted messaging business. The company has just announced that it has acquired secure communications service Wickr — a messaging app that has geared itself towards providing services to government and military groups and enterprises. It claims to be the only “collaboration service” that meets security criteria set out by the NSA.
AWS will continue operating Wickr as is, and offer its services to AWS customers, “effective immediately,” notes a blog post from Stephen Schmidt, the VP, and CISO for AWS, announcing the news.
Financial terms were not disclosed in the short announcement. Wickr had raised just under $60 million in funding, according to PitchBook data (it also notes a valuation of under $30 million but that seems to be a very old estimate). Meanwhile, Amazon’s cloud and enterprise division, AWS, has been a juggernaut for the e-commerce and services giant. AWS posted revenues of $13.5 billion last quarter, up 32% year-on-year, with a net income of $8.1 billion.
Amazon’s purchase of a messaging product geared at providing secure services to government bodies is coming at a time when the company continues to be embroiled in a dispute around the JEDI contract, a $10 billion deal to provide services to the U.S. that Microsoft was granted during the Trump administration.
It’s unclear if this is part of Amazon’s effort to build out more infrastructure and services to flesh out its own offerings or simply a sign that it will continue to court that market, with or without JEDI in its pocket.
The move also suggests that Amazon could be planning to make a bigger push into the messaging space — some might say a long-awaited move from the company.
The AWS division currently offers communications service Chime, which enables organizations to meet, chat, and place business calls. But it’s a little-known product that’s failed to have the impact of rival services Slack or Microsoft Teams, and it doesn’t focus on end-to-end encryption as Wickr does.
Amazon was reportedly working on a messaging product as far back as 2017, although that appeared to be geared more to consumers. The company also owns a number of social media patents.
Fast forward to 2021, and there are a million other considerations around messaging that wouldn’t have been key factors in 2017, such as encryption and other privacy-saving features. And messaging, in general, has grown increasingly sophisticated.
There are four areas in particular where Amazon might be interested in playing here: (1) to offer Wickr as a business service, continuing how it is used today; (2) building “messaging-as-a-service” for other companies to use in their apps a la other AWS services; (3) build a consumer messaging app on top of the Wickr infrastructure; (4) more services connected to Echo, expanding more features around a bigger social commerce/interactive play. Or, all of the above.
Commenting on the acquisition, Stephen Schmidt, AWS CISO, said: “The need for this type of secure communications is accelerating. With the move to hybrid work environments, due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, enterprises and government agencies have a growing desire to protect their communications across many remote locations. Wickr’s secure communications solutions help enterprises and government organizations adapt to this change in their workforces and is a welcome addition to the growing set of collaboration and productivity services that AWS offers customers and partners.”
In a notice on its website, Wickr said: “From our founding ten years ago, we have grown to serve organizations across a wide range of industries, all over the world. Together with AWS, we look forward to taking our solutions to the next level for our customers and partners.”
Wickr, which was founded in 2011 and is based in San Fransisco, describes itself as the “most secure” video conferencing and collaboration platform. Unlike other collaboration tools, which encrypt messages as they travel from a user’s device to a company’s servers but store those communications in an unencrypted state, Wickr uses end-to-end encryption which means that only people on either end of a conversation can decrypt and read messages.
Wickr also offers users an ephemeral messaging feature, which allows users to set self-destruction timers for as short as a few seconds.
The company has recently made a big push into the enterprise as a result of the mass shift to online communications. In February this year, Wickr launched ‘Global Federation’, a feature that enables enterprise and government entities to securely communicate using end-to-end encryption with mission-critical partners outside of their network.