Table of Contents Hide
- How does secure messaging work?
- Features of the best secure messaging apps
- 5 of the best and most secure messaging apps
- How to choose a secure messaging app
- Tips on how to protect your messaging app security
- Which secure messaging app is best for you?
- Recommended Articles
Messaging apps have been common in smartphones since their release. But while there are an increasing number of privacy apps available, there are also a growing number of encrypted chat apps. The best secure messaging apps for Android provide a simple way to keep your chats, calls, and videos private and secure.
Encrypted instant messaging ensures privacy and security by making sure that only the person you are sending your messages to can read them. Powerful encryption software built into the messaging apps means that any third party intercepting those messages will not be able to read them.
How does secure messaging work?
Secure messaging applications use end-to-end encryption (E2EE) to keep messages private as they travel between the sender and the intended recipient’s devices. The messaging service uses mathematical operations to scramble the message—turning it into gibberish that only becomes decipherable to the person with a valid decryption key.
The main messaging app security concern is the extent to which third parties can potentially read private messages, the companies behind the apps, or even governments that collect data on their citizens.
Features of the best secure messaging apps
Secure messaging apps are built to safeguard user communications without sacrificing a strong user experience (UX). These apps accomplish this with must-have features and functionalities such as:
- End-to-end encryption. E2EE is a system for private communication that masks messages using a method called public key cryptography.
- User authentication. Secure messaging apps leverage identity verification processes like multifactor (MFA) and two-factor authentication (2FA) to guarantee that only approved users have access to private messages.
- Open source. Ideally, the secure messaging service you select will make its code public so experts and users can review the platform’s security measures and inspect the code for flaws.
- Rich media. If you’re looking for an app to replace your regular unsecured messaging app, choose one with comparable rich messaging features, including text, images, videos, GIFs, and stickers.
- Self-destruct and expirations. A truly secure messaging service will include message-destruction features to prevent recipients from saving messages against the sender’s wishes.
- HIPAA-compliant. This capability won’t be necessary for every user, but healthcare organizations should learn about HIPAA’s security requirements when they select a messaging app.
Below is a list of the best secure messaging apps that leverage some or all of these features to enhance user privacy.
5 of the best and most secure messaging apps
Signal is a cross-platform encrypted messaging service dedicated to end-to-end encrypted voice calling and encrypted texting. It is generally considered one of the most secure messaging apps on the market.
The Signal messaging app is free to use and available on both Android and iOS operating systems. There is also a desktop version for Windows, Mac, and Linux. To join, all you need is a phone number. The user experience is similar to other popular chat apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Features include one-to-one messaging, group messaging, stickers, photos, file transfers, voice, and video calls.
Signal has been around since 2013 but increased rapidly in popularity in 2020 and 2021.
Element is a genuinely interesting and appealing secure messaging platform that will appeal to individual users and businesses alike. It’s reliable, it comes with just about all the features that you’re likely to need, it’s simple to set up, and it has some of the best security and privacy features in the business – if you want to escape the clutches of the big tech giants, this is well worth a look.
For consumers, the biggest problem might be getting all your friends and family to switch over to something new – Element doesn’t have quite the same polish as the likes of iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack and the rest, and of course, it’s not as widely used. The best fit for Element might be those who have the time and resources to really invest in it, including servers and bridges to other apps.
Overall, the Element messenger platform scores highly for its approach to security and its commitment to decentralization. It will definitely be of interest to businesses wanting control over their own chats – as well as plenty of individual users as well.
With an estimated 1.5 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp probably needs no introduction. It was one of the first chat apps to enable end-to-end encryption for more secure communication.
WhatsApp encryption is established, and users are explicitly warned when end-to-end encryption is not applied to a particular chat. The platform does not store messages on its servers, so if cyber criminals were to hack into the platform, they would not be able to decrypt any of the messages.
Additionally, WhatsApp does not have the key to see encrypted messages. By default, WhatsApp stores messages in a way that allows them to be backed up to the cloud by iOS or Android.
WhatsApp also offers two-step verification that allows you to add more security to your account by setting a PIN required to verify your phone number on any device.
Facebook owns WhatsApp, an association that makes some question its privacy credentials. WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, other Facebook companies. This means data is shared with advertisers, who use it to target consumers.
Founded by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, Telegram is a multi-platform messaging service that first rolled out on iOS and Android in 2013. Telegram’s core functionality is the same as most other messaging apps: you can message other Telegram users, create group conversations, call contacts, and send files and stickers.
Telegram also uses end-to-end encryption which prevents anyone outside a two-way conversation. However, it only uses this encryption in calls and its “secret chats” feature, not in regular chats. Those are only encrypted client-to-server. By contrast, WhatsApp, which is sometimes portrayed as less secure, has used end-to-end encryption in messages, calls, and video calls since 2016.
The reason for this is Telegram’s enhanced use of the cloud. Essentially, it stores all your messages and photos on a secure server. This means you can access them from any connected device, making Telegram more multi-platform friendly than other chat apps like WhatsApp.
Selling your data isn’t at the core of Telegram’s business model – a plus for Telegram security.
There is an option to self-destruct messages, files, photos, and videos in a certain amount of time after they have been sent and received. After a message is received, it remains in the chat for a set period – you can select times between one second and one week – and then it disappears.
Telegram challenged hackers to attempt to break through their encryption and decipher messages, offering a $300,000 reward for anyone who could do so. The contest ended without anybody winning the bounty, but Telegram has a bug bounty program that remains open. This encourages security researchers to submit any safety issues in the Telegram app or protocol.
Threema is an end-to-end encrypted messaging app and also one of the most secure messaging apps. Unlike many others, Threema does not require you to enter an email address or phone number to open an account, which provides users with a very high level of anonymity.
Features include text and voice messages, voice and video calls, groups, and distribution lists. Threema is not free – users pay for it. The company behind Threema is based in Switzerland.
Threema’s key principle is restraint on metadata. To ensure that no data is misused, Threema’s servers permanently delete a message after it is delivered to the recipient. Information usually managed on a server is managed locally on the user’s device, meaning that any conversation is protected against eavesdropping.
As a result, there is no fallback to decrypted connections, so nobody else except for the intended recipient can read a Threema message.
Threema is open source, so users can independently verify the extent of the encryption. However, the app does not support two-factor authentication.
How to choose a secure messaging app
There’s a variety of encrypted messaging apps out there. But beware: Some supposedly secure messaging apps are actually fake, while others don’t adequately protect your data. The best secure messaging apps all contain essential features to keep you safe.
When choosing a private messaging app, make sure it has these key features:
- Open-source code
When an app’s source code is available to the online community, it ensures that the app is put through more security tests. Also, it’s regularly checked for bugs and other vulnerabilities that may cause a malware infection.
Your data is highly sought after by cybercriminals and advertisers. The best encryption software makes sure your personal data stays private. A secure messaging app offers end-to-end text encryption to enforce privacy.
If you care about your privacy, make sure the companies providing your apps do too. A secure messaging app adheres to company policies that respect your privacy and protect your data.
- Responsible data collection
Though many secure messaging apps use encryption, they can still collect metadata about you, including device info, your IP address, and geolocation. The most secure apps don’t collect this information, or they let you easily opt out of data collection.
Tips on how to protect your messaging app security
Aside from the security of the apps themselves, tips for staying safe online when messaging others include:
- Exercise caution when using via public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi is invaluable but can pose security problems. Since public networks tend to be used by many people, they can be prime targets for hackers. Hackers can easily sniff data like photos, messages, passwords, usernames, and banking information sent over Wi-Fi. Using a VPN can help protect you against any security breaches.
- Avoid sending private information on chat apps or via text message. Don’t give out passwords, credit card information, or other private data via messaging. Be wary of disclosing any personal information to a stranger you meet via instant messaging. Even apparently innocent information like the name of your employer can be used against you by fraudsters.
- Be careful of what links you click on when chatting. Never click on links that you receive through instant messaging from people you do not know and trust and have never met in real life to avoid falling victim to a phishing scam.
- Protect your phone with security software. As well as securing your device with a password or PIN, make sure you are protected with security software.
Which secure messaging app is best for you?
When deciding which encrypted messaging app to use, first consider what your actual needs are, as budget software may only provide basic options, so if you need to use advanced tools you may find a more expensive platform is much more worthwhile.
Additionally, higher-end software can usually cater for every need, so do ensure you have a good idea of which features you think you may require from your encrypted messaging app.
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