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New Service Aims To Make Texting Secure

LYNN NEARY, host:

Text messaging is exploding, and that's an understatement. In 2005, cell phone users in the U.S. sent a total of about seven billion texts per month. Last year, they sent 173 billion text messages per month. That's a monthly average of more than 600 messages per person. The main advantage of text messages is that they can be received on just about every mobile phone anywhere in the world. The main disadvantage: They're not secure.

Cyrus Farivar reports on a new startup that's been trying to merge the convenience of messaging with security.

CYRUS FARIVAR: When you send a text, there are at least three copies: There's one on your phone, there's another copy on the recipient's phone, and there's at least one copy on your mobile carrier's servers, not to mention any other carriers that it had to hop through along the way. In other words, when it comes down to it, text messages aren't very private. And that's why folks like attorneys and doctors can't use them for work.

Mr. SEAN WHITELEY (COO, TigerText): So, the big thing here is that you've got private information about clients, patients, whatever it is. And if you lost your phone, every message you ever sent could be grabbed by somebody.

FARIVAR: That's Sean Whiteley, the COO of TigerText. He says his company's service doesn't send normal texts; rather, these messages are sent entirely through an application and encrypted. The company says it lets users set an expiration date on how long that encrypted message stays on their servers. In other words, it deletes them when you want.

Mr. WHITELEY: But with TigerText, since we destroy the messages, you're only liable for how long they're on there for. So, once they're gone you have the safety of knowing that there's less data that can be leaked.

FARIVAR: They've gotten a lot of interest from hospitals. That's because TigerText is compliant with federal health privacy rules.

Dr. JAMES FRENCH (Executive Director, Moses Cone Health System): The biggest problem in a hospital - I'm really a hospital physician - is communication.

FARIVAR: That's Dr. James French, an executive at the Moses Cone Health System in Greensboro, North Carolina.

He explains how before TigerText, getting doctors in direct, secure communication with each other takes a long time. Remember, many doctors still use pagers. So, it may take some time to get doctors used to typing on their phones.

Mr. FRENCH: I'm just typing in - is this patient ready? Is this - if I can get this thing up here 'cause I'm an old guy, so I'm still getting used to this myself.

FARIVAR: However, only 35 out of 40 doctors in Dr. French's group are using TigerText, because they already have smartphones. The other five can still use it, but only through the TigerText website. But Dr. French says that he's confident they can roll the service out to the rest of the department, and then the entire hospital in the coming months.

For NPR News, I'm Cyrus Farivar.

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NEARY: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.