As the world comes to realize that it has never really been safe to be online thanks to all the scandals involving Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency of the United States, secured messaging apps have reached peak popularity in the recent years. This added to the increased amount of information we exchange over digital mediums nowadays, makes it more important than ever to find ways to keep our information as private as possible.
While many governments are actively trying to make it more difficult, we’re still far from being unable to protect ourselves online. Particularly in the area of instant messaging, a lot of services are becoming aware of this reality that can affect their users’ privacy which has led many of themn
to adopt measures to counter this.
The main tool adopted by chat apps to ensure privacy over their service is End-to-End encryption. In case you’re not familiar with it, and as its name suggests, this process encrypts conversations on both ends of a conversation. This means whether you’re sending or receiving a message, you can be sure it won’t be intercepted by an eavesdropper on its way to its destination.
End-to-End encryption even prevents the messaging service providers from storing any copies of your chats, because messages are encrypted and decrypted on the devices of the participants of the conversation with keys not even the app’s developers have access to. This ensures that even if law enforcement agencies were to seize the servers of the service providers, they wouldn’t find anything about their users other than perhaps their names and phone numbers depending on the service you use.
Right now there are many instant messaging apps that have adopted this encryption for their messages. Some of them have more features than others, but all of them get the work done if privacy is your main concern, so let’s go over the ones I’ve found to be the best and most popular options:
This messaging service is the default messaging app for Apple mobile devices. It’s at the bottom of this list because while it is certainly a very good messaging app that supports many interesting and unique features, it only provides End-to-End encryption between users of iOS.
You should also be careful if you’re using iCloud to back up your messages since this stores them unencrypted on the cloud, which has proven to be accessible to hackers
If you’re old enough and have been living under a rock for the last decade, you might mistake this messaging app for Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger. And while it would have been awesome to have End-to-End encryption back then, we’re actually referring to Facebook’s messaging app. The one that’s embedded in the browser version of the social network and for some reason is delivered as a separate app on mobile.
Needless to say, this app is available on every major platform out there. Yet it is still the second last not only because it does not feature End-to-End encryption by default but also because it makes it kind of difficult to activate it and does not even support it in its browser counterpart.
Still, in case you’re curious, to activate the encryption in the app you must tap on your profile picture in the top right corner and scroll until you see the ‘Secret Conversations’ menu option. Tap it and toggle the selector to activate the supposed “Secret Conversations”, which are just regular, End-to-End encrypted conversations.
This is perhaps the funniest app from this list, unfortunately, we’re not measuring fun but privacy. The main reason we put this app in the third spot is that it does not feature End-to-End encryption by default. Still, their approach to this security measure is quite interesting:
To activate encryption in a chat, you’d have to create what they call a ‘secret chat’. This enables End-to-End encryption, but what’s possibly more impressive about these chats is the fact that they don’t leave any logs in Telegrams servers and messages contained in them self-destruct after a given amount of time. It may sound a bit extreme and may be annoying if you want to keep your encrypted conversations, but it’s perfect if you want to expose sensitive information.
Unfortunately for the app, many terrorists are reportedly using it to communicate in the Middle East, which has earned it (and End-to-End encryption as well) a bad reputation among governments. But it is a very good app with a ton of unique features like community-made chat bots and personalized stickers that can cheer up many conversations.
You may be familiar with this one since it the most popular third-party messaging app in every app marketplace. While it also belongs to Facebook, this one’s very different from Messenger. The reason we put it so close to the top of the list is that this app does feature End-to-End encryption by default and can’t really be turned off.
Although the app didn’t use to have this feature when it was first released, they decided to implement it in 2015, making it the most widely used secure messaging app. On top of this, they allow their users to set up two-factor authentication, adding an extra layer of security to their service, which has earned it a solid spot on this list.
Praised by Edward Snowden himself, this app surely deserved to be at the top. This open source app is actually the one responsible for the security protocol used by WhatsApp itself. It is presumed this was the first messaging app do adopt End-to-End encryption and over the years it has done nothing but up its privacy game.
The app features End-to-End encryption over chat as well as voice and video calls. The app asks you for a password every now and then to allow you to keep using it and it regulates the amount and type of data shared over mobile networks and Wi-Fi to prevent eavesdropping. This, added to its screen scrapping prevention makes it by far the most reliable chat app available, at least to us.
You Can Never Be Too Careful
Being able to encrypt your messages is a big step towards a better security and privacy. However, the Snowden Scandal made it clear that the tools used by law enforcement agencies to spy on people are very advanced and have spread to an unbelievable amount of devices around the world. Being paranoid about it is only fair.
If you want to add an extra layer of security to your communications you should consider taking more measures in that direction. While your messages do stay hidden if you use End-to-End encryption, messaging apps still share a fair amount of personal info about you as a user, information that can be hidden from eavesdroppers if you start using a VPN. VPNs allow you to route your traffic through a network of servers to deceive those who are tracking the traffic coming from your devices and make you untraceable.
There are many excellent VPN service providers that provide you with a lot of options to keep your navigation safe from the ill-intentioned. Good providers of the service like TorGuard and, to a lesser extent, Express VPN let their users pick a server to connect to from a large catalog distributed in locations all around the planet, allowing them to mask their IP address as that of another country’s.
Good VPN services like these don’t even keep any logs about your activity, making it impossible for law enforcement to get anything from seizing any of their servers. There are other ways to which you can add an extra bit of protection to your communications, but if you’re really concerned about your privacy, VPNs are really the best way to go.
Some other VPN options for mobile: