Facebook Messenger is hacked fairly routinely. Additionally, almost all messenger apps log conversations, and those conversations can be turned over to intelligence agencies, accessed by a hacker, or used to target advertisements.
Why Do You Need Secure Messaging?
So, what are the reasons why you might want to use a secure messaging app? Here are just a few of them.
- You’re worried about identity theft, which we all should be concerned about, or about advertisers buying your information so they can sell us things (Bear in mind that some encrypted messaging companies, like some free VPN companies, collect a lot of data about you themselves).
- You are handling corporate data that is valuable, or which is protected by an NDA.
- You’re an investigative journalist who might have to worry about criminal elements getting hold of your data.
- You are a human rights activist trying to get information out of countries in which mass censorship is a concern or even to avoid arrest.
- You are a lawyer or doctor seeking to establish client or patient confidentiality whilst using the convenience of modern internet communications.
It used to be that only dissidents, tech experts, and the paranoid bothered with encrypted messaging. Now more and more people realize that anyone who wants to keep their conversations truly private should use encrypted messaging.
How Do Secure Messaging Apps Protect Your Data?
Modern secure messaging apps use end-to-end encryption. This means that only the intended recipient can read the message.
Even the administrators can’t read your messages – which means they can’t turn them over to anyone, including law enforcement. The better apps will also delete your messages once they have reached the end recipient, although not all services do this.
The encryption works by the use of keys, which means you and your contacts have to use the same app. This can become challenging at times and if you talk to a lot of people you may even need more than one app.
Popularity, thus, can be an important metric, although you should try not to let it overrule higher levels of security.
Which App Should I Use?
Which app you should use depends on your needs, and may involve a balance between security and convenience. Here are how some of the best apps match up.
WhatsApp is literally the most popular messaging program on the internet, and does offer full encryption. However, there are known to be some vulnerabilities in WhatsApp’s servers.
Pros: popular, very secure encryption standard, has a lot of features including video calls, video memos, group chats, etc.
Cons: owned by Facebook, chats are too easy to store in the cloud unencrypted, there is a flaw when messages are sent but not delivered.
Signal uses the same high-level encryption system as WhatsApp.
Pros: very secure encryption standard, open source code, a lot of features, messages can be programmed to self-destruct.
Cons: requires SMS verification, small number of users.
A Swiss company, so most popular in the German-speaking world.
Pros: does not log messages, allows locking of chats by PIN code, allows for VoIP.
Cons: shows a link to phone number and email by default, no video calls.
Another Swiss app, and it boasts that it abides by all EU laws.
Pros: open source code, web client option, integrated with various content problems.
Cons: stores your contacts in plain text.
A German system that has multi-platform support.
Pros: supports Windows Phone and Linux, allows you to be contacted by user name not just phone number, can only access private chats from the original device.
Cons: easily abused by bad actors, can only access private chats from the original device.
Designed to be used by teams and businesses
Pros: very good encryption, open source, has a Slack-like collaboration program.
Cons: only available for iOS and Android.
A private chat based in Luxembourg.
Pros: offers some good tools for learning more about encryption and security.
Cons: you have to follow the exact sharing method to keep end-to-end encryption active.
A zero-knowledge messaging app, which makes for a very high level of security.
Pros: Cyphr cannot read your messages, messages are not logged, easy to use.
Cons: Only available for iOS and Android.
This app is designed primarily to secure files and phone calls.
Pros: calls made through CoverMe will not leave records on your phone calls, has a private vault feature.
Cons: not well known.
This app is designed specifically to encrypt text messages.
Pros: open source, does not require an internet connection to work.
Cons: only works for SMS.
As you can see, the best app to choose varies depending on your needs. Some of the major messaging apps also now include encryption options, but trusting Google and Facebook is always a high risk, as they rely on user data for advertising purposes.
When selecting an app, find out what metadata it stores (for example, some of these services will log the location of your phone, which is valuable to advertisers and to the ex you’re trying to avoid) and what policies they have for its use.
Always choose an app that offers full end-to-end encryption and avoid backing up your messages in plain text, which can over-rule all of the privacy advantages easily.
Secure messaging apps are at their best when paired with a VPN, but will at least provide a good amount of security when sending messages over the cellular system. You should consider using one if you have any information you need to pass on which might be confidential.
As with encrypted email, try to encrypt all of your messages, not just the important ones, as this can give hackers a clue as to where to look.
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