Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of the popular encrypted instant messaging service Signal, has announced that he is stepping down as the chief executive of the non-profit in a move that has been underway over the last few months.
“In other words, after a decade or more, it’s difficult to overstate how important Signal is to me, but I now feel very comfortable replacing myself as CEO based on the team we have, and also believe that it is an important step for expanding on Signal’s success,” Marlinspike said in a blog post on Monday.
Executive chairman and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton will serve as the interim CEO while the search for a replacement is on.
Founded in July 2014, Signal has more than 40 million monthly users, in part driven by a surge of new users in January 2021 when Meta-owned WhatsApp enacted a controversial policy change that sparked a privacy backlash over the nature of personal information shared with its parent company.
But the communication app’s rapid growth has had its share of downsides, what with the company’s employees raising concerns about the fallout stemming from potential misuse of the service by malicious actors, which could add ammunition to ongoing debates about weakening encryption protections to facilitate law enforcement investigations.
Complicating matters further is its decision to integrate MobileCoin, purportedly an “encrypted-focused cryptocurrency” into the app to facilitate peer-to-peer payments, a shift that could potentially put private messaging at risk by not only attracting regulatory scrutiny but could also serve as an open invitation for criminals to exploit the platform to their benefit.
“Signal and WhatsApp have effectively protected end-to-end encryption from multiple legal attacks at the state and federal level,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer, told The Platformer last week.
“But the addition of pseudo-anonymous money transfer functions greatly increases their legal attack surface, while creating the possibility of real-life harms (extortion, drug sales, CSAM sales) that will harm them in court, legislatures and public opinion.”
Security researcher Bruce Schneier had a similar take last year when Signal began testing support for MobileCoin payments.
“Secure communications and secure transactions can be separate apps, even separate apps from the same organization,” Schneier said. “End-to-end encryption is already at risk. Combining it with a cryptocurrency means that the whole system dies if any part dies.”