The world is becoming increasingly digital. A lot of our interactions are now online or mediated through apps instead of face-to-face, which has implications for personal security and privacy. In most messaging apps, your messages can be read by third parties if they so wish.
Encrypted messaging services provide a measure of security from this threat. They keep your messages safe from prying eyes by encrypting them so that only the intended recipient can read them. There are several players in this space, let’s take a look at their offerings –
What is Encrypted Messaging?
Encrypted messaging is the exchange of private messages over online communications platforms. The messages are encrypted (i.e., converted into unbreakable codes) using an algorithm that only the intended recipients can decipher. Encrypted messaging apps are primarily used for secure communications. They are ideal for situations that require confidentiality like the transfer of sensitive business information, the exchange of medical records, or the transmission of personal data.
Briar is an open-source encrypted messaging app that provides a secure way to communicate. The app allows you to create a “list” that lets you send messages to a group. Briar lets you send encrypted messages, images, and audio recordings. The app is available on Android only for now.
Tox is an open-source peer-to-peer network and protocol for secure communication. The app is available on Android, and you can send text messages and make audio calls through it. The app lets you create a contact list, and you can invite anyone to the list, even if they don’t have the app.
Session is an encrypted messaging app that allows you to send voice and video calls. You can also send text messages, photos, and stickers. The app lets you create “rooms” that are invite-only. Once you enter the room, you can send messages to everyone in it. The app is available on Android and iOS.
Launched in 2009 by the Facebook wunderkind, the app has over 1.5 billion monthly users. The messaging app allows users to send messages, pictures, videos, and calls. The app also allows users to create group chats with up to 256 people.
However, the app doesn’t offer encryption. As per a report released by Open Whisper Systems, WhatsApp has the ability to read and scan user messages. In 2017, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion.
Its business model is to collect data from the user and sell it to advertisers. This poses a risk to user privacy. After the $19 billion acquisition by Facebook, WhatsApp has implemented end-to-end encryption for all user messages in an attempt to safeguard user privacy.
Element is a free and open-source encrypted communications app that has been approved by the Open Standard Protocol. Element allows you to send and receive end-to-end encrypted messages, photos, and voice calls.
The app allows you to create a contact list that can include anyone, even if they don’t have the app. The messages stored in the app are encrypted and are not indexed by search engines. The app is available on Android and iOS.
Wickr is a U.S.-based encrypted messaging app. The app was launched in 2012. The app allows users to send end-to-end encrypted images, videos, and text, as well as voice messages. The app can also be used to share files with other users.
Wickr allows users to set an expiration date for messages, images, and files. The app also has a “self-destruct” option that disables the message after a certain time period chosen by the user. Wickr also has a “disappearing” messages setting that allows users to set a message to disappear after a certain amount of time. In January 2019, Cisco acquired Wickr for an estimated $175 million.
Signal is an encrypted messaging app developed by Open Whisper Systems. The app was launched in 2016. It can be used to send end-to-end encrypted voice calls, text, picture, and video messages.
The app supports the Signal protocol, an open-source encrypted communications protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems. Signal is widely used by journalists and activists in countries where free speech is restricted.
The Signal app is available for iOS and Android devices. As per the MIT report, Signal is the only encrypted messaging app that follows the industry standard for peer review.
Telegram is a cloud-based encrypted messaging app that allows users to send end-to-end encrypted text, picture, video, and voice messages. The app also offers group chat functionality and several other features.
The app was launched in 2013 by Russian entrepreneur and programmer, Pavel Durov. The app is available for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, and Linux platforms. In September 2018, the app was banned in Russia for failure to hand over encryption keys to the government.
In February 2019, Telegram launched a new feature called “Secret Chat” that allows users to send end-to-end encrypted messages that self-destruct after a certain period of time.
Developed by the Switzerland-based company, GmbH, Threema is a secure messaging app that provides end-to-end encryption. The app was launched in 2013 and it is available for Android and iOS devices. In October 2018, Threema announced that they submitted their protocol to an independent review by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich. The review found that Threema’s protocol follows the standard for peer review.
Encrypted messaging apps are an important tool for safeguarding personal privacy and security. While these apps provide an excellent means of secure communication, it is important to remember that nothing is hack-proof. If your communication relies solely on an encrypted app, then you are at risk of being exposed if the app’s servers are hacked.
Therefore, it is advised that users use a combination of encrypted messaging apps and regular SMS/phone calls to protect their communications from interception. For maximum protection against interception, use an encrypted messaging app to send a message to an unsecured number.
The recipient will receive the message as a regular SMS/phone call, but since it was sent from an encrypted app, the message will remain protected from interception.