A woman with dark hair swept to one side, looking at her phone and smiling. She is wearing a darker yellow sweater with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. She is sitting on a brown leather type couch.

A woman checking her phone.

Text Messaging & Sensitive Conversations

Consider this, you have a conversation with someone about something sensitive that you don’t want others to hear.

People think they have nothing worth hiding, but everyone has information about themselves they don’t want others to know. It’s okay to want to protect your privacy and communications.

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.

In this article, we’ll talk about why you need a secure messaging solution, how to use them effectively, key features and use cases, and simple ways to move your sensitive conversations to secure messaging.

Why Secure Messaging Apps Are Essential

When you talk to someone online, there is no guarantee that the conversation you and the other person are having is between the two of you. There are groups, governments, corporations, and even individuals (intimate partners) who expend a considerable amount of effort spying on your communications.

Once again, consider your own risk profile or threat model when having sensitive conversations, and why you might need a secure messaging app. Here are a few examples that are general in nature, but may apply to you:

  • 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

Privacy and Your Data

There are some things to consider about selecting a secure messaging app which meets your needs. The application should ensure communications remain private and protected, leveraging end-to-end encryption that prevents unauthorized access to your messages. Unlike traditional text messages and email, secure messaging apps don’t store unencrypted messages, making it much harder for someone to eavesdrop on your conversations.

Another feature to consider, metadata, such as your message times and locations. You can maintain greater control over your digital footprint and privacy by safeguarding your metadata.

Additionally, many of the secure messaging services don’t require a phone number or email address to use the services.

Here’s a quick snapshop of how secure messaging protects your privacy:

Privacy Features Importance
End-to-End Encryption Secures conversation content
Metadata Protection Protects user privacy
No Personal Info Required Enhances anonymity
Secure File Sharing Safeguards data transfer
Brand Reputation Maintenance Builds user trust

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.

Key Features to Consider

Unlike traditional text messages secure messaging apps ensure users’ conversation and shared data remain confidential.

Here are some of the key features:

  • End-to-End Encryption: This is the cornerstone of secure messaging, converting readable text into scrambled ciphertext only decipherable by the intended recipients.
  • Open Source Code: Transparency is a must for secure messaging, and many apps invite security audits through open-source code, allowing both experts and users to verify the integrity of the encryption methods.
  • Comprehensive Privacy Policies: Trustworthy secure messaging apps present clear and robust privacy policies that detail the measures in place to protect sensitive information.
  • Support for Rich Media: Security isn’t limited to text; these apps also provide encrypted sharing of images, videos, voice messages, and files, ensuring that all types of communication are protected.
  • Self-Destruct/Disappearing Message Features: Some apps offer messages that disappear after a set interval or upon reading, helping to prevent any record of the conversation against the sender’s wishes.

These features collectively contribute to more secure communication and better protects your privacy.

Secure Messaging Apps to Consider

Signal is one of the more secure messaging apps available. It is end-to-end encrypted, open source, and free to use. It allows disappearing messages, has undergone third-party audits and publishes Transparency Reports.

The latest updates to Signal allow using a username, rather than requiring a phone number to sign up. The app logs a minimum amount of data, can handle encrypted messages, voice messages and video calls.

Another good option for secure messaging is Wire. While not as well known, Wire has secure messaging, group chat capabilities, file-sharing and the ability to collaborate easily. The app has undergone third-party testing.

Unfortunately, Wire does require an email address to sign up for the service, but you could use a throwaway email address for the account. The app is end-to-end encrypted, open source, has disappearing messages and also publishes transparency reports and security audits.

Wire, as a company, focuses more on the corporate market than the individual but may be a good option for you and your team. Additionally, Wire is GDPR compliant and free.

Threema, is another secure messaging app, although slightly less known. You can use Threema anonymously, it has end-to-end encryption, text and voice messages, voice and video calls, file sharing and groups. They also have regular security audits and transparency reports. There is no free version of the app.

A quick note about WhatsApp, yes, it is encrypted, however it is owned by Meta, which historically does terrible things with user data. It is a commonly used app worldwide, and if it’s what you have, it’s good enough for now, but keep your most sensitive conversations out of the chats.

Whichever app you choose, go with what makes sense for your needs and where you can easily encourage other family/friends to join you in the transition to secure messaging.

Final Thoughts

Security and privacy are the most important pieces for choosing the right messaging app for you. Pick a service that meets your needs and has features you like and use. All the options presented run across platforms, have web-based/desktop versions you can use on your devices.

You have a right to privacy, to protect your information and to know what companies are doing with your data. Choosing to move to secure messaging also means you’re taking back a little bit of control of your data.

Enjoy your messaging, keep those sensitive conversations to encrypted apps, use disappearing messages, and if it’s something that might get subpoenaed, have the conversation in person.

If you need help with a secure communications plan or understand your best options for your security, join us for our next Privacy Fundamentals class. You can find all the details here.

The guidance included in this article does not constitute legal advice and is for educational purposes only.