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August 15, 2022

What to Look For in Secure Message Apps

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Two hundred years ago, we sent messages by written letter. Then we moved to the telegraph, followed soon after by the telephone. When we invented the internet, communication was revolutionized once more. We were able to send messages instantly around the world in the form of email, and texting came in short order. Now, the most popular form of communication worldwide is the instant message. There are dozens of messaging apps out there, from Facebook Messenger to WhatsApp. However, while convenient, many don’t offer the level of privacy that should be afforded to what are meant to be private messages. So what should you be looking for in secure message apps? Let’s take a look at what a messaging app should include and which ones are the best to use.

  • What do you risk with a non-secure app?
  • What should an app include?
  • Which apps are the best?
  • How else can you improve your secure message privacy?

What Do You Risk With a Non-Secure App?

The three most popular messaging apps in the world are WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and China’s WeChat. Although the apps are functionally similar, they all differ wildly in terms of the privacy afforded to their users. This is the case with most messaging apps on the market. If you don’t choose your service wisely, you may unintentionally be sharing more than just messages with friends. Here’s what you risk with a non-secure app:

  • In many cases, the companies who offer messaging services use those services to collect data about their users. That data may include your name, date of birth, contact information, and location (although you can avoid that last one by using a location changer, like a VPN). They can sell that data to third parties or use it for themselves. The content of your messages may be harvested with this data. Facebook is notorious for its misuse of customer data, which calls into question the security of their messaging apps.
  • If you aren’t careful with the messages you send and who you send them to, there’s often nothing stopping the recipients from taking what you send them and sharing it with others.
  • Bots may be more prevalent on non-secure messaging apps, which means you may find your inbox inundated with unwanted, and potentially dangerous, spam messages.

What Should an App Include?

The standards for privacy within the messaging app industry vary wildly. There are few uniform rules that companies must follow. As such, some apps are far better at protecting your privacy than others. While few apps will tick all the boxes, these are just a few features to look out for:

  • End-to-end encryption. This type of encryption prevents anyone from accessing your messages if they don’t have permission to do so (in this case, “permission” comes in the form of an encryption key). That means that snoops, hackers, and even the app creator can’t read your messages without your permission.
  • Encryption enabled by default. Any secure messaging app should have security enabled by default. This allows you to use the app without running the risk of forgetting to protect your messages.
  • Open-source software. Unfortunately, secure message apps with open-source software are somewhat rare. However, they have the advantage of being reviewed and vetted by outside sources so you can more confidently trust their security features.
  • Expiring messages. This feature is quickly becoming standard on many messaging services. It allows users to set a time limit for their messages. Once that limit is reached, the message disappears from the chat history for both users. Expiring messages are especially useful for sensitive content like private information or private photos (if you know what we mean).
  • No history of breaches. Any app can be hacked. That’s just an unfortunate reality of living in a digital world. However, an app that repeatedly suffers breaches likely won’t be as safe as an app that has never been breached.

Which Apps are the Best?

Ultimately, the question of which secure message apps are the best depends entirely on you, the end user. Your privacy needs probably differ from those of others. However, these are some of the most commonly recommended:

  • WhatsApp
  • Signal
  • Telegram
  • Wickr

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is currently the most popular messaging app in the world, with more than two billion users around the world. It offers group chats and voice calls, file sharing, and the ability to delete messages even after they’ve been sent. It has also added timers to messages. And, WhatsApp also offers the all important end-to-end encryption. However, the app is owned by Facebook which is commonly in the news for breaching privacy so keep that in mind if WhatsApp is your messenger of choice.

Signal

Signal is another of the secure message apps that offers end-to-end encryption. In fact, it created the current gold standard for message encryption, which it allows other companies to use. You can use the app for instant messaging, voice and video calls, and even SMS. The app is open-source, ad-free, and doesn’t collect user information.

Telegram

Have you ever wanted to have a group chat with 100,000 people? Well, that’s an option if you use Telegram, an app known for its mega group chats. This app includes self-destructing messages and an easy-to-use interface. However, encryption is not turned on by default, putting security on the shoulders of its users.

Wickr

Wickr’s messaging app is end-to-end encrypted, open-source, and doesn’t collect user data. All messages shared on the platform auto-destruct after a set period of time by default. The app doesn’t require a phone number or email for you to sign up, which is a huge boon to your personal privacy if that’s your cup of tea. The biggest drawback is that Wickr isn’t overly popular so you may have to convince your friends to download it too. In addition, Wickr was acquired by Amazon in 2021, which may affect its overall privacy.

How Else Can You Improve Your Secure Message Privacy?

Picking a secure app from the get-go is a huge step in increasing your message privacy. There are also some other steps you can take to increase your security, without relying on the app to do it for you:

  • Be wise about the content you share. If the information you’re sharing is sensitive in any way (your medical information, contact or financial details, nudes), reconsider sharing it. If you wouldn’t be happy with the whole world seeing your message, don’t send it.
  • Read the app’s privacy policy and any updates to it. An app may seem secure at a glance but its privacy policy may tell a different story. In addition, read any policy updates you’re notified about. A once-secure app may amend its policies in ways that are less safe.
  • Use a VPN when you send messages. VPNs add an extra layer of encryption to your messages which can help keep you safe.

Keep your messaging secure with end-to-end encryption. You can beef up your privacy and security with a virtual private network like HotBot VPN.

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