However, the adoption of these tools does raise some concerns. This form of communication is a little better than unencrypted email, and, in some cases have been shown to be notoriously insecure.
Facebook Messenger is hacked on a routine basis. Additionally, almost all messenger apps log your conversations, and those conversations can be turned over to intelligence agencies or used to target advertisements.
Why Do You Need Secure Messaging?
There are many good reasons why you might want to use a secure messaging app. Here are just a few:
- You’re worried about identity theft, which we should all be concerned about or advertisers that buy your information so that they can sell you things (it’s important to know that some encrypted messaging companies, like some free VPN companies, collect a lot of data about you for themselves).
- You are handling corporate data or data 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 while 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 inhibits them from turning 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 between you and your contacts, which requires both of you to use the same. This can become challenging at times, and if you talk to a lot of people, you may even need more than one app.
Popularity can be an important metric. However, you should try to not to let it overrule higher levels of security.
Which Secure Messaging App Should I Use?
Deciding on the perfect app will depend on your needs and may involve a balance between security and convenience. Here are some of the best apps and how they match up:
In 2009, cofounders Jan Koum and Brian Acton created WhatsApp to help them resolve problems they were having with their own personal calls. End-to-end encryption was added to the app in 2016, and by 2018, it had grown to over 1.5 billion users worldwide. This caught the attention of Facebook, which acquired the company.
As for security, the encryption that is used does help enhance privacy between users and keeps messages from getting into the hands of imposters. However, some vulnerabilities have appeared in the servers that WhatsApp uses for its service. While it is a popular app with an abundance of users, there are better choices out there if you are highly concerned about your security and privacy.
- Utilizes a secure encryption standard
- Includes features like video calls, video memos and group chats
- Encryption is automatically turned on if supported by your device.
- The company can’t read your messages
- Owned by Facebook, which has been scrutinized for privacy issues
- Company collects customer data
- Has been implicated in giving customers’ data to intelligence agencies
- No anonymous sign-up capability
Similar to WhatsApp, Signal is free and also uses a combination of Curve25519, AES-256 and HMAC-SHA256 for encryption and has end-to-end encryption capability built-in as a default. It has been recommended by WIRED as a top recommendation due to its availability on multiple mobile platforms and the developers’ continued commitment to keep the app simple and fast by not adding web tracking your ads.
It’s open-source encryption engine can be inspected by anyone and also has other features, which will allow you to perform group messaging and set up voice calls.
- One of the few apps to also secure messages and attachments
- Provides a transparency report
- Does a better job than most in hashing personal information such as your contact list and mobile number
- Encrypts metadata
- Collects a minimal amount of customers’ data
- The server and app are completely open source
- Encryption is turned on by default
- Uses certificate pinning
Based in Switzerland, Threema is available for Android, iOS and Windows Phone. The company was founded in December, 2012 and became popular when the Snowden leaks occurred in the summer of 2013, which helped boost its user base. When WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook, 200,000 users decided to quickly switch to Threema. It has a high number of German users, and statistics indicate that this app’s user base had grown to over 1.2 million users by 2014.
While most apps have their servers located in the United States, Threema’s servers are all located in Switzerland and are subject to the laws associated with the Swiss government. All communications are end-to-end encrypted and immediately deleted from the servers after being delivered.
- Falls under Swiss jurisdiction
- Messages are encrypted by default
- Anonymous sign-up to the app is allowed
- Provides notification if a contact’s fingerprint changes
- It’s not open source and can’t be inspected
- Requires payment
- No video calls
- Shows a link to phone number and email by default
This app offers end-to-end encryption and is open source. It’s also full of features such as secure file sharing and video calls that are fully encrypted. It’s available in both free and paid versions and works on popular platforms such as Linux, iOS, macOS, Android and Windows.
The app was created by Wire Swiss and Skype’s cofounder Janus Friis and was initially released in December, 2014. In May, 2017, it was pointed out by motherboard.vice.com that all user contacts are logged and kept in Wire’s servers until the user deletes their account.
- Secures messages and attachments
- Falls under the jurisdiction of Switzerland
- Company does not collect data from customers
- Encryption is turned on automatically by default
- No option for signing up anonymously
- Stores your contacts in plain text
This messaging app is another software program that offers end-to-end encryption. However, this is not enabled by default. It also has an added feature that allows you to create more privacy by utilizing their “Secret Chats” option, which is available in advanced settings. You also have the option to destroy data that you sent to a recipient such as videos, photos and messages in a certain time period after they have been opened.
The company was founded by Pavel and Nikolai Durov and is available on Android, Linux, macOS, iOS, and Windows Phone platforms, and the client-side code for Telegram is open source. Telegram has been scrutinized for storing media, messages and all contacts in the same area where decryption keys are placed on its servers. In March 2018, the company had over 200 million monthly users.
- Has not been implicated in giving customers’ data to intelligence agencies
- The app does allow a secondary factor of authentication
- An independent code audit was conducted in November 2015
- Metadata is not encrypted
- Messages can be read by the company
- Encryption is not turned on by default
- The company does not provide a transparency report
This app is available for free for iOS and Android platforms and offers strong encryption as well as other ways for you to stay private. It is open source and does not require you to provide an email address or phone number if you’d like to register for the service. You also have the option to sign up for this app anonymously. It is one of the few apps to hash your personal information such as your contact list, mobile phone number, etc.
The app has multiple layers of encryption, which helps secure your data. Your unique device identifier isn’t uploaded to their servers, which helps keep your identity private. The code is open source, and the app also has a Slack-like collaboration program.
- Ability to sign up anonymously
- Company does not collect customers’ data
- The app does not collect customers’ data
- Encryption is turned on by default
- Only available for iOS and Android platforms
Currently based in Luxembourg, Viber offers both instant messaging and VoIP. It’s provided for free for Linux, Android, macOS, iOS and Microsoft Windows platforms. You do have to register by using your mobile phone number. Encryption is turned on automatically by default if your device supports it. You also receive a notification if a contact’s fingerprint changes.
Viber added end-to-end encryption in 2016. However, you have to follow a specific sharing method in order to keep your data encrypted from you to your recipient.
- End-to-end encryption is available by default if your device supports it
- Uses strong encryption methods
- Offers some good tools for learning about security and encryption
- The end-to-end encryption default option is based on device
- Company does not provide a transparency report
- The company Collects customers’ data
This is a zero-knowledge messaging app, which means that it provides a high level of security. The company does not read your messages or log them. It’s currently only available for iOS and Android platforms. The company has indicated that it is working on web and desktop apps.
Cyphr has its servers located in Switzerland, which means that all data falls under the jurisdiction of Swiss privacy laws. 256-bit AES encryption is utilized along with TLS for secure, encrypted transmissions. The founders of this free app have been working with internet privacy and security since 1994.
- The platform is intuitive and easy to use
- Company does not read your messages
- Messages are not logged
- Falls under the jurisdiction of Switzerland
- It’s only currently available for Android and iOS platforms
CoverMe offers private messaging as well as private calling, private texting and a private phone number if you’d like a second line, which will keep your personal mobile phone number hidden. It has added end-to-end encryption to its private messaging service. You also have the capability to program messages so that they automatically self-destruct from your device and a recipient’s device.
There’s also a feature that offers a private vault. This allows you to store photos, videos and other files, which provides added security.
- Offers a private vault feature
- Calls made through the app will not leave records of your phone calls
- Not well known and offer specific information on its website
Provides end-to-end encryption strictly for messages and utilizes the Signal encryption protocol. Its code is open source, which gives anyone the ability to verify the security of the app. The company is funded by donations and was formerly known as SMSecure. It has a friendly, simple interface, which is easy to use.
- Code is open source
- Does not require an internet connection in order to work
- Only works for SMS
LINE has over 700 million users and is popular in some Asian countries. Messages are encrypted from end-to-end with a feature that the company calls “Letter Sealing.” The app is available for iOS and Android platforms and can also be accessed via a Chrome extension if you are using a PC. The app also offers a group chat feature.
End-to-end encryption is not set by default. The only way to stay completely secure is by turning on the option and using messages. You can also share photos, voice messages, videos, contact and location.
- Offers end-to-end encryption for messages
- A full line of features is available
- It’s free
- End-to-end encryption must be turned on
This Korea-based messaging app offers full encryption for messages. However, in order to utilize the feature, you have to go into a “Secret Chat” option, which is similar to the feature used on Telegram.
The app is mainly used by smartphone users who are located in Asia. There are over 220 million registered users for the app, which is free. It’s available for Android, iOS and PC.
- Offers end-to-end encryption for messages
- Basically used by individuals who operate smartphones in South Korea
- End-to-end encryption is not set by default
Established in 2013, this app provides video calls, conference calls, voice calls, secure email, instant messenger and a TOR web browser. It utilizes military grade RSA 4096-bit encryption, which is associated with zero middlemen or servers. This means you can communicate directly with your family, friends or colleagues. Pryvate Now focuses on the business space and won the “Best Business App” award in 2015.
The app is available as a free or paid version for iOS and Android users. However, many users have stated that the app works brilliantly for the iPhone. However, there have been freezing issues by a number of users who are utilizing the app on their Android.
- Offers RSA 4096-bit encryption
- An award-winning app
- Offers a free version
- Multiple features
- Has had issues with the Android platform
What We Recommend
As you can see, the best app to choose varies and depends on your needs. Some of the major messaging apps also include encryption options. However, 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
- 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 overrule 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
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