Simple real time communication via messaging services - popularised by consumer offerings such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram – is a challenge in the public sector, especially when it comes to national security.
Element, and the open source Matrix protocol, enables organisations to develop their own secure communication infrastructure to support messaging and collaboration.
November 2020 saw the launch of BwMessenger, a Matrix-based messaging app for the Bundeswehr.
It was developed by BWI GmbH, the Bundeswehr’s digitisation partner. A secure open source messaging service is the new standard for the German Armed Forces.
The pandemic highlighted the need for simple, secure and user-friendly real time communication services in the public sector, but the trend towards new ways of mobile-first working was already well under way.
However, the public sector’s administrative and policy requirements for the highest standards of confidentiality and data security was a serious constraint on the broad adoption of traditional messaging and collaboration.
It deemed consumer-grade, centralised systems such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp completely unsuitable. As a result the Bundeswehr, and its IT system house, BWI GmbH, decided to create its own secure messaging platform.
As part of its research and facilitated by GovTech venture firm PUBLIC through its work with Element in the German public sector, BWI became aware of Element whose Matrix-based messaging system Tchap is already in use by the French government.
In cooperation with Element, and building on the Matrix protocol, development began on BwMessenger; an organisation-wide, secure and device-independent communication system.
Matrix gives the Bundeswehr the digital sovereignty it needs for real time communications, as well as a decentralised open network.
The combination is crucial as the Matrix communication protocol (based on the HTTP standard) enables individual organisations to communicate with each other interoperably - similar to email and SMS.
Being an open standard means that Matrix is even able to provide interoperability between the silos of traditional, centralised commercial providers.
Simultaneously Matrix allows each participant to host its own service, delivering digital sovereignty for all parties; which is vital for secure communications across a federated organisation. Public authorities, ministries and private users can use Matrix through their own servers and clients while still communicating with each other. As a result, Matrix always gives users control and sovereignty over their own data. Being open source, the actual messenger app can be customised and expanded for each organisation.
Chief Executive Officer of BWI GmbH
“In addition to the benefits that the solution offers us in terms of security, scalability and development, it also contributes to the digital sovereignty of the Bundeswehr.”
In December 2019 BWI began to develop and test the BwMessenger on behalf of the Bundeswehr, together with Element. In April 2020, the pilot operation was expanded to 30,000 Bundeswehr-issued smartphones and tablets to meet the increased demand for remote and mobile working during the pandemic. BwMessenger was also developed to support use on personal mobile phones (Android and iOS).
The full launch of BwMessenger was in November 2020, with soldiers and civilian employees able to use the BwMessenger on official and private smartphones and tablets. The app is available in Google Play and Apple AppStore, to support around 50,000 users. In the course of 2021, the number will be gradually increased.
Since December 2020, BwMessenger is being piloted in the area of SMK (Secure Mobile Communication) for the transfer of sensitive information up to the protection class VS-NfD ("Classified - For internal use only") on Bundeswehr-issued devices.