Let’s talk about secure encrypted messaging apps, and why you need one.
People think they have nothing worth hiding, but everyone has information about themselves they don’t want others to know.
Any messages you send via SMS or text messaging can be intercepted much more easily than messages you send via an encrypted messaging platform.
Anyone with access to the flow of traffic data can read what you’re sending and receiving.
What is Encrypted Messaging?
Encryption is using a specific algorithm so that anyone reading it cannot understand what’s being sent without a code or key to unscramble the data. The algorithm encrypts the information while in transit, and then only the receiver can decrypt it.
Essentially, encryption converts data into scrambled text, that can only be decoded with a secret key.
The secret key is made up of numbers that are created on your device, and the device you message. These keys only exist on those two devices.
The information transmitted between the two devices is not shared by a third party or other devices.
This is a simplified explanation of encryption for our purposes.
Why Should You Use an Encrypted Messaging App?
Here are some possible use cases for encrypted messaging:
- Sharing medical data or banking information
- Topics around work you don’t want your employer to see
- Anything that is legally required to be confidential
- Sensitive topics regarding health or family issues
- Transmission of some personally identifiable information or details
As with any type of messaging, there are no messaging apps or platforms that are 100% secure. Data kept on one or both ends of the conversation can still be shared.
Keep in mind when sharing sensitive information, even when deleted, doesn’t mean it cannot be retrieved.
Some apps such as Signal, Wire, and now WhatsApp can set disappearing messages, on both sides of the conversation.
Ensuring you have disappearing messages makes the retrieval of any sensitive information by unwanted parties, much more difficult.
Which Secure Messaging Should I Use?
Whether you use an encrypted messaging and where will depend on your privacy needs, threat model and country of residence.
If you live in a country where there is significant government surveillance of devices and individuals, using an encrypted messaging app might raise your profile to law enforcement or government.
Considering your threat model is an essential part of picking which secure messaging app is right for you.
For example, if you have an iPhone, you’ve got iMessage in the palm of your hand already. iMessages use encrypted messaging, and anyone else with an iPhone who also uses them is already set for encrypted messages. Be sure both parties sending messages have selected the encrypted messaging option.
Other options that are simple are Signal, which is available cross-platform, and works on all major operating systems in addition to mobile platforms. You can send messages to individuals or groups and it supports audio, video and sending of files.
Wire is an encrypted messaging platform that works cross-platform and provides many of the same features as Signal. You don’t need to use a phone number with Wire, and can simply create a throwaway email address and user name to use the app.
Using more secure message platforms doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s quite simple. Talk to people in your life about why encrypted messaging helps protect you both when having sensitive conversations.
Once you’ve gotten some of your contacts to move over to secure messaging, make some adjustments to the settings to ensure the following:
- Disable screenshots in the app (Signal has this option, others vary)
- Don’t forward confidential information to other people
- Enable two-factor authentication & pins to access the apps
- Consider disabling link previews
- Encrypt any backups of your messages (iCloud and Signal on desktop)
Remember anything said in secure messaging can still be retrieved so ensure you set disappearing messages on both sides of the conversation, and save super sensitive conversations for in-person.
The guidance included in this article do not constitute legal advice and is for educational purposes only.