The Israeli military/intel platform instant messaging system

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Israeli Military Launches New WhatsApp Alternative

WhatsApp prides itself on the strength of its privacy and security, describing it as being “in our DNA;” the Facebook owned platform can be credited with popularizing end-to-end encryption, after all, which it says secures user content “from falling into the wrong hands.” But WhatsApp’s security creds are now under increasing threat—fears of metadata mining, Facebook’s creeping commercialization, its Messenger and Instagram integration, the lack of a secure backup or device transfer option, all undermine this “DNA” tagline.

(Now we are suppose to trust on IDF? Jajajajajajajajajajajajajajq), the Israeli military, has launched a new messenger that replicates WhatsApp’s features but puts its security to shame. Unlike other such military platforms, IDF’s “operational chat” has been designed to mimic the mainstream messenger, to be just as intuitive—put simply, it is intended to look and feel just like WhatsApp, not like a highly classified operational platform to disseminate real-time intel to frontline troops. But it’s a WhatsApp lookalike on which users can safely and securely discuss real-time terrorist incursions, enemy positions and planned strikes.

“Its user experience,” an IDF spokesperson told , “which is much like WhatsApp, builds upon soldiers’ knowledge and experience using their own mobile phones.” The new messenger “allows for intelligence and operations to transfer immediate classified information to the field and for soldiers in the field to transfer real time information back to HQ. The information is quick and exact and reaches all relevant bodies in real time.”

The launch of this new “operational chat” is part of IDF’s ongoing digital transformation—it’s cloud-based and designed to put user experience first. Brig. Gen. Ziv Avtalion, Commander of IDF’s Digital Transformation Administration, told this was part of his efforts to change the culture, to ensure that soldiers were able to shift from everyday smartphones and apps to military machines seamlessly, “to get information to soldiers while they fight against the enemy, not keeping it in headquarters, bringing them the advantage to win the battle.”

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“Since we wanted the chat to be comfortable and intuitive,” I was told, “operational chat is a kind of IDF WhatsApp—it works similarly to WhatsApp, with groups, contacts, search engines, the ability to attach photos, and, in the future, we will add classified video calls, voice recordings and mapping abilities. These are significant operational abilities.” The platform also includes subject-specific channels, “much like Telegram.”

Development began three years ago, with phased deployment from last year. The platform can’t be installed on ordinary smartphones—only military devices. There are now as many as 20,000 “multi-branched chat groups—since operational chat was deployed across IDF, there has been wide-scale usage. Field commanders and officials claim it is their righthand tool and that it improves their operational effectiveness.”

“Digital warfare presents many new challenges,” Brig. Gen. Avtalion said, “such as a disappearing enemy and battlefields full of sensors. We should know how to use all this to our advantage. As a data-driven organization, how do we turn data into action in both peacetime and wartime.”

“It really does look a lot like WhatsApp,” the spokesperson said. “The need came from the field—a classified information sharing platform that is also user-friendly. In the past, clumsy classified information transfer processes between different units created instances of disinformation. Today there’s a comfortable platform to transfer information quickly and precisely between all relevant bodies.”

Clearly, this is a military/intel platform and not a general messenger. But the fact that WhatsApp’s usability and functionality has been mimicked is critical. This is no different to the way in which Signal, currently the best alternative to WhatsApp, is targeting the mainstream. WhatsApp treads a fine line between security, functionality and hyper-scale appeal. Until recently, it was still a go-to platform for surprisingly sensitive messages sent to and from many government and security organizations. That’s now changing. More secure alternatives—particularly Signal and Wickr—have broadened their appeal, and usage has soared. Officials are being pushed to shift their messaging away from WhatsApp.

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The other key takeaway from this story is the way the military is adopting mainstream look and feel to ensure soldiers pick up military apps with ease.