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Twitter acquires security start-up Whisper Systems

Tuesday, 29 November 2011 | By Michelle Hammond
Twitter has acquired US-based security start-up Whisper Systems, with the company’s two team members to begin working for the social media giant in what is primarily a talent buyout.


Whisper Systems, headed by Moxie Marlinspike and Stuart Anderson, focuses on Android security for enterprise customers.


The start-up originally focused on creating a way for people to use Google and other systems without being tracked.


It is well-known for its RedPhone service, which creates encrypted phone calls so no one can listen to your conversation, and TextSecure, which also encrypts text messages.


Now Whisper Systems has been acquired by Twitter, with the start-up announcing the news in a company blog, including confirmation the Whisper Systems team will work for Twitter.


“We started Whisper Systems with the goal of improving security and privacy for mobile devices... because the stakes are much higher,” the company wrote.

“We ended up tackling the full stack – all the way from application-level solutions at the top of the stack, down through a hardened version of Android, to kernel modifications at the bottom.”


“Along the way we learned a lot, and developed products that we’re proud of.”


“Now that we’re joining Twitter, we’re looking forward to bringing our technology and our expertise into Twitter’s products and services.”

“The Whisper Systems software, as our users know it, will live on but there is unfortunately a transition period where we will have to temporarily take our products and services offline.”


Neither Whisper Systems nor Twitter has disclosed financial terms of the deal, nor has Twitter elaborated on the role the Whisper Systems team will play.


“The Whisper Systems team is joining Twitter starting today... We’re happy to have Moxie Marlinspike and Stuart Anderson onboard,” Twitter said in a statement.


“As part of our fast-growing engineering team, they will be bringing their technology and security expertise to Twitter’s products and services.”


Since none of the Whisper Systems products are even out of beta, it’s likely Twitter was more attracted to the talent in this particular acquisition.


It’s been suggested Twitter intends to improve the security of its own products when used on Android and other platforms.


Haig Kayserian, chief executive of Australian-run New York angel fund Kayweb Angels, says talent buyouts have “long been a trend” for larger web companies such as Google and Facebook.


“It is no secret that the United States is struggling for engineering talent... Buying existing tech companies to utilise their talent is an obvious tactic for recruiting in a hurry,” Kayserian says.


“Talent buyouts are also sometimes a cheaper way of acquiring such talent.”


“I employ about 20 staff, and when you calculate the cost of recruitment and training, you may be better off buying a smaller company with outstanding tech talent and training.”


The news comes on the back of a report by The New York Times, which claims Rovio – maker of the Angry Birds series – turned down a $2.25 billion acquisition by fellow gaming giant Zynga.


Rovio is yet to confirm the report, while Zynga is unable to comment as the company is currently preparing for its IPO.