Most secure messaging apps on the market in 2020
In the threat-ridden digital world, a secure messaging app should be a priority for all netizens. Smartphones have truly revolutionized the way people communicate. Instead of face-to-face interactions, most humans rely on various apps to chat with friends, co-workers, and family. It is crucial to know whether apps guarantee private real-time text transmissions over the internet. In other words, a secure messaging app should ensure that the owners of the application or other third parties cannot read your messages.
Adding end-to-end encryption to the equation of a secure messaging app
When browsing through the market for a secure messaging app, you might notice the phrase “end-to-end encryption” (or E2EE). It refers to a method of encrypting data at both ends of conversations to prevent anyone in the middle from reading them. As a result, secure messaging app owners have no way of logging copies of messages. If government entities were to request such data, messaging apps won’t have any records to hand over. So, by using a secure messaging app that practices E2EE, you are out of the authorities’ reach.
However, not all security advocates are on board with E2EE. While it is the best option for protecting data and services from misuse, E2EE is an obstacle to law enforcement agencies. A truly secure messaging app creates a safe space for criminals to communicate without worrying about tracking or security checks. Unfortunately, resolving this issue means sacrificing the privacy of genuine users.
Which secure messaging app is the right fit for you?
It might be challenging to navigate through a market with the current selection of allegedly secure messaging apps. Therefore, we list some of the choices for you, taking into consideration both user-friendliness and privacy conditions.
Signal (or TextSecure Private Messenger) is a passionate advocate for users’ privacy, and their practices continue to prove their dedication to this cause. The app applies E2EE for communications through the app, including instant messages, voice, and video calls. Therefore, many security experts label Signal as the most secure messaging app out there. However, it is not the most popular option, with other apps beating it with their impressive user communities. Signal is available on desktops, iPhones, and Androids. So, you can test drive this secure messaging app to see whether it is suitable for you. Another interesting feature is the fact that Signal is open-source, which allows all tech-savvy users to challenge its reliability. The only downside of this secure messaging app is that it requires users to provide their phone numbers. Nevertheless, it is a small price to pay when compared to more intrusive apps on the market.
Wickr is not the most widely used app, but it packs a punch when it comes to protecting users. In fact, it is one of the pioneers that chose to adopt E2EE. The open-source app offers two versions: Wickr Me for personal use, and Wickr Pro for corporate purposes. Even though it is one of the most secure messaging apps, it is not as popular. Initially, Wickr came out as an option for businesses to ensure safe transmissions of potentially confidential information. So, it was not the optimal choice for everyday users. Nevertheless, Wickr is an excellent option for anyone looking for a secure messaging app. Just bear in mind that you will need to convince your friends to make the switch as well.
You would assume that this Apple product is the best secure messaging app on the market. iMessage provides E2EE by default and gives users control over how long messages are available to others. The app also offers people to store their messages on iCloud, which is not something that security experts recommend. While iMessage encrypts data, the app holds the decryption key. Hence, if faced with legal obligations, iMessage can hand in information to law enforcement agencies. However, this does not mean that you should not use iMessage: simply avoid the option to backup your conversations on iCloud.
Wire is an open-source app that also practices E2EE. It has all the ingredients of a secure messaging app, and you can download it on your preferred browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Opera). The company managing Wire also claims to have no obligations to share data with government or surveillance entities. However, this secure messaging app has some less impressive features that users might not be thrilled about. Wire logs who their users talk to without applying encryption protocols. While the owners claim that this action guarantees smoother synchronization, it might be enough to convince some users to turn to other apps.
According to statistics, Telegram has an impressive user base of 731 million people. However, while rich in users, it is not the most secure messaging app. It does offer a user-friendly interface but lacks some of the essential security features. For one, Telegram does not turn on encryption by default. Therefore, millions of users might not be aware that they need to perform this manually. As a result, Telegram stores message data in their servers, which is not something that we recommend. Moreover, Telegram is not entirely open-source and not as transparent about its services as others. After adding the notion that the app leaks a significant amount of metadata, it is dicey to say that Telegram indeed is a secure messaging app.
With approximately 2 billion users, WhatsApp dominates the instant messaging app arena. It is user-friendly, with a ton of convenient features. Furthermore, WhatsApp applies an advanced encryption protocol, offering the Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). Even if hackers manage to get a hold of the key to your secret chat, they will only see the last message. But why is WhatsApp at the bottom of this list? Since Facebook owns WhatsApp, security advocates are skeptical about whether it is a fully secure messaging app. Additionally, hackers have exploited the vulnerabilities of WhatsApp to install surveillance malware. Hence, you might need to think twice about using it.
7. Facebook Messenger
Facebook Messenger has gained tremendous popularity over the years. Over 1 billion people use it for their daily conversations. However, is it the secure messaging app that excels in the privacy and security departments? We are leaning towards “no.” Facebook Messenger does offer E2EE, but not by default. You need to start a secret conversation to take advantage of this feature. Even though Facebook attempts to make amends security-wise, users should be hesitant to trust Facebook Messenger as a secure messaging app.
The bottom line
Whichever secure messaging app you choose, there is a way of keeping all your web traffic encrypted and untrackable. VPN services guarantee anonymity, confidentiality, access to region-restricted services, and more. Hesitant to sign up for a subscription? You can try Atlas VPN for free on your smartphone and get protection against snoopers online.
Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.