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DEMO: VaporStream to raise eyebrows

Private communications can be a double-edged sword

By Paul McNamara on Tue, 09/26/06 - 3:29pm.

Void Communications had better be ready for a call from Department of Homeland Security.

Why? Because in a world where a bottle of shampoo is considered a risk to commercial aviation it's likely that federal security officials will see red flags in a service designed to provide any two people - say, Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man in the U.S. - with an electronic communications channel that leaves not a trace of its contents or the identities of the participants.

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Key to Void's Web-based VaporStream service is the fact that at no time does the body of the message and the header information appear together, thus leaving no record of the interaction on any computer or server. The message cannot be forwarded, edited, printed or saved, and, once it's been read, it disappears; nothing is cached anywhere. No attachments allowed. "If you need a record, use e-mail. If you don't, use VaporStream," said Void CEO Joseph Collins in the company's morning presentation at DEMOfall.

Billed as potentially controversial by show organizers, it's not difficult to see why an application of this sort would cause concern among corporate security officials in addition to the feds. "Bad people can do bad things with just about anything," Void's chief brand officer Bob Hall told me at the company's show booth. The company doesn't see VaporStream being a useful tool for terrorists because it's built for one-to-one conversations, not one to a group. As for corporate concerns, Hall says companies will need to fashion acceptable-use policies and, in some cases, block access to VaporStream, depending on their security needs. What they're trying to do with VaporStream is provide a secure, confidential means of communication that also happens to be recordless. "Good guys need confidentiality, too," notes DEMO Executive Producer Chris Shipley.

She's right, of course, but that's not going to stop people from raising concerns.

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