Entrepreneur helps military families connect in secret

A Texas-based company has developed a program that allows chatters to use “instant messaging” software without fear of having their chats read by other people. In addition, the software is being donated to members of the military so they can have secure conversations with their loved ones.

John Hasson, founder of johnyTech.com, developed the program in response to a friend’s needs. “A person I worked with had a buddy stationed overseas that he wanted to chat with,” Hasson said, “but his commanding officer said the conversation had to be encrypted.” Hence, Encrypted Messenger was born.

The program utilizes widely used encryption techniques to make instant-messaging conversations secure. The latest version, Encrypted Messenger 3, works with many common instant-messaging programs, including AIM, AOL Messenger, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo Messenger.

The program retails for $14.95, but Hasson said after considering the situation many soldiers are in, “I thought, why not give it away [to them]? They can’t always do a phone call, but there are lots of places for them to get Internet access.” Members of the military can receive a free full version of the software, which allows users to send and receive secure instant messages, files and pictures. Their families can download a “lite” free version that only allows them to receive the secure messages without buying the full software.

Hasson says the response has been light, primarily because he is only advertising the free versions via press releases and word-of-mouth. However, people are downloading and using the software and he says soldiers deployed in locations ranging from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq are using it to securely instant-message their families back home.

And users don’t have to jump through hoops to secure their conversations. “The program is unique in that it works with the program you’re already using,” Hasson explains. “Lots of people don’t want to have to learn a whole new program,” and with this system they don’t. After installation, the program works in the background to encrypt chat data. Partly because of its ease of use, Encrypted Messenger 3 won the 2003 People’s Choice Award by popular vote from MSD2D.com, a Web site aimed at networking professionals.

Encrypted Messenger can be downloaded from the johnyTech Web site, www.johnyTech.com, for personal use. Members of the military can e-mail [email protected] for a free copy.