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Use cat pictures to hide encrypted Facebook posts

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When a bunch of self-described crypto geeks get together to make a messaging app, you get Wickr: one part Snapchat, one part WhatsApp and one part spy-level encryption technology.

A few years ago, CEO Nico Sell was helping to organize the annual Defcon hacker convention and she needed a way let ace hackers and whistleblowers communicate with journalists and each other. So she leveraged encryption technology used by spies, law enforcement and human rights activists to send self-destructing communiqués and in 2011 co-created the messaging app Wickr.

The app's new feature, released Tuesday for iOS devices, lets users create a private Instagram-like feed of photos that disappear after 24 hours and can be shared on Facebook.

Cat videos take over Internet, marketing worl... 04:03

But here's the twist: When you post the pictures to Facebook, they are automatically disguised as generic cat pictures. It's a technique called steganography, or concealing a message in plain sight. Only those "in the know" will be aware that the kitty is a secret message waiting to be received.

"When you go to Facebook, you'll see that your friend is posting a kitty cat photo. If you're in the know you can double click and it will show the photo on Wickr," explained Sell. Members who have been invited to view will be brought to the picture; non-members who think to double click will be prompted to download the app.

"We wanted to implement this true spy technology like the spies use right now. They usually hide secret messages in cats and in porn because those are the most popular images on the Internet," Sell added.

Wickr strips the metadata out of the feed photos when you post them, so there's no geotag or other information that can be used by data brokers -- or stalkers and kidnappers. And because the only picture that ends up on Facebook is the cat, and not the image of you that it's designed to hide, the social network does not have possession of your photo, or the right to use it.

Eventually Sell says they'll offer dog photos, too. But that'll be an in-app purchase.

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