True Private Messaging: 7 Apps to Encrypt Your Chats

Are your text messages private and secure? Or are they vulnerable to prying eyes?

Given the news lately, it’s safe to assume they’re not.

It’s been revealed that the National Security Agency has been collecting text messages for years — up to 200 million a day. They collect everything they can from anyone they can, from phones all over the globe. Just by analyzing your text messages, they can extrapolate who you’re talking to, how often and about what, your location at any given time, and even glean information about your financial transactions.

They may even be assisted by carelessly designed apps on your smartphone. Many so-called “leaky apps” are exploited by government organizations to mine even more sensitive data about their users. A surprising number of the most popular messaging apps are insecure, as their creators put usability and features over the security and privacy of their users.

Other apps are purposely harvesting your information, taking advantage of the privileges and permissions you grant them when they’re installed. One famous example is the Facebook messaging app, which sparked a storm of controversy over all the permissions the app asked for upon installation. Since Facebook’s entire business model is built on selling your data to advertisers, why wouldn’t they try to harvest as much of it as they could with a new app?

The controversy didn’t last long, however, and millions of people decided to download the app anyway. As Facebook knows, most people don’t pay attention to the fine print, and even if they do, they’re willing to trade their right to privacy in exchange for convenience.

But what if you refuse to give up your privacy? What if you know that having “nothing to hide” is a dangerous fallacy, and understand the dangers of letting personal information fall into the wrong hands to be used against you?

If you want to protect your privacy while messaging on your smartphone, it’s vital to use a secure app. Here are the top seven apps we found that can help you protect your privacy.

True Private Messaging

True Private Messaging: 7 Apps to Encrypt Your Chats

Are your text messages and IMs safe? Given the knowledge of extensive government surveillance programs that continues to leak out and the massive tracking programs corporations use to keep tabs on consumers, it’s a fair question to ask. There are a number of apps that can keep personal messages private, though there are some things you should keep in mind before using them.

Wickr

Launched:

  • June 2012

Created by:

  • Nico Sell
  • Robert Statica
  • Kara Coppa
  • Chris Howell

Available on:

  • Android
  • Apple

Cost:

  • Free

Benefits:

  • Doesn’t require users to upload their contact list
  • Users can set auto-destruct timers on messages from 1 second to 6 days
  • Chat with up to 10 people at a time in a group
  • Wiped messages are deleted from the hard drive of the device
  • Users can delete metadata from their messages
  • 100% ad-free

Potential drawbacks:

  • Can only chat with other users of the Wickr app
  • Wickr’s cryptography hasn’t been made open source so that its strength can be monitored by outside parties
  • Users who have forgotten their password will be locked out of their account
    • Wickr is working on a way for users to change their password, but it will still require them to know their initial password

Did you know?

  • Wickr supports 23 languages
  • Named the Official App of the Oslo Freedom Forum
  • Wicker has offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who can find a bug that affects the integrity of their system

Cryptocat

Launched:

  • 2011

Created by:

  • Nadim Kobeissi

Available on:

  • PC
  • Apple

Cost:

  • Free

Benefits:

  • Encryption is open source and can be reviewed
  • Users can send encrypted files to one another
  • Cryptocat messages practice perfect forward security
  • Should someone hack the system in the future, past messages would not be readable
  • Facebook users can use Cryptocat to have encrypted conversations with other Facebook+Cryptocat users

Potential drawbacks:

  • Can only encrypt messages between Cryptocat users
  • App does not mask IP address

Did you know?

  • Given a perfect score by the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s Secure Messaging Scorecard
  • In 2013, the Iranian government blocked citizens from accessing Cryptocat
  • Ranked first (along with Threema and Surespot) by the German PSW Group for secure messaging apps

Threema

Launched:

  • 2012

Created by:

  • Martin Blatter
  • Manuel Kasper
  • Silvan Engelermeer

Available on:

  • Amazon
  • Android
  • Apple
  • Windows Phone

Cost:

  • $1.99

Benefits:

  • Ad-free
  • No message data is stored on Threema’s servers
  • Users can chat anonymously
  • Securely finds friends by encrypting contact list
  • Users can verify the ID of other users by scanning their QR codes
    • A user can confirm that the public key they have for an individual is correct by scanning that person’s QR code
  • Color-coded messages show users how sure they can be that another user is who they claim to be

Potential drawbacks:

  • Cryptography is not open source
  • If users lose their private key/passcode, they cannot be restored
  • Only one Threema ID can be associated with a single device

Did you know?

  • The app’s servers are located in Switzerland, where the software was designed
  • In February 2014, downloads of Threema doubled in 24 hours
  • This took place shortly after the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook

Silent Text (Part of Silent Circle)

Launched:

  • 2012

Created by:

  • Phil Zimmermann
  • Mike Janke
  • Jon Callas
  • Vic Hyder
  • Vincent Moscaritolo

Available on:

  • Android
  • Apple

Cost:

  • Silent Circle plans range from $9.95/mo to $39.95/mo

Benefits:

  • Private keys are stored on user devices, not Silent Circle servers
  • Users can send files up to 100 MB that are automatically encrypted by the service
  • Messages can be set to self-destruct after a certain amount of time has passed
  • Messages can also be manually deleted from both devices by the sender at any time
  • Messages are secured and encrypted from end to end
  • New encryption keys are created for each conversation, and then destroyed

Potential drawbacks:

  • App only usable by Silent Circle subscribers
  • Silent Text users can only communicate with other Silent Text users
  • Encryption is not open-source

Did you know?

  • Two of the company co-founders are ex-Navy Seals
  • Phil Zimmermann was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame
  • He created Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), an email encryption method

TextSecure

Launched:

  • 2010

Created by:

  • Moxie Marlinspike (AKA Matthew Rosenfeld)
  • Stuart Anderson

Available on:

  • Android

Cost:

  • Free

Benefits:

  • Encryption is open source
  • Users can chat in groups
  • Messages are encrypted locally
  • Can automatically detect if message recipients are TextSecure users

Potential drawbacks:

  • Sometimes has trouble sending images/videos/audio clips
  • If a user’s password is cached in the phone, new texts will appear in plain text in the notification center
  • This would allow User A to trick User B into sending a message intended for User A to a third user without User B’s knowledge

Did you know?

  • WhisperSystems, the company behind TextSecure, consists only of two people:
    • Moxie Marlinspike
    • Stuart Anderson
  • WhisperSystems partnered with WhatsApp in November 2014 to encrypt users’ messages by default using their TextSecure protocol
  • Billions of encrypted messages are sent daily through this partnership
  • TextSecure was used by Egyptian dissidents in 2011

surespot

Launched:

  • 2014

Created by:

  • Adam Patacchiola
  • Cherie Berdovich

Available on:

  • Android
  • Apple

Cost:

  • Free

Benefits:

  • Ad-free
  • Encryption is open source
  • Users do not need to create an account with their email address or phone number
  • Features end-to-end encryption
  • Multiple IDs are possible on the same device
  • Voice messaging is available

Potential drawbacks:

  • Passwords cannot be reset or restored
  • Does not practice perfect forward security
  • Can only communicate with other surespot users

Telegram Secret Chats

Launched:

  • 2013

Created by:

  • Nikolai Durov
  • Pavel Durov

Available on:

  • Android
  • Apple
  • Windows Phone

Cost:

  • Free

Benefits:

  • Ad-free
  • Encryption is open source
  • Users can chat with up to 200 people in a group
  • Messages can be set with an auto-destruct timer
  • Messages are encrypted end-to-end
  • Users can chat, send multimedia messages, or share files

Potential drawbacks:

  • Users have to choose to communicate through secret chats

Did you know?

  • Telegram has 50 million monthly users
  • Over 1 billion messages are sent through Telegram daily
  • Telegram offers a $300,000 bounty to anyone that can break their encryption protocol
  • Their $200,000 bounty for 2013-2014 went unclaimed

As cryptographer and security expert Bruce Schneier says, “You shouldn’t use them if your life is on the line.” But for anyone who wants to keep their private messages exactly that — private — secure messaging apps are a good fit.

Sources

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Discussion

10 Comments to “True Private Messaging: 7 Apps to Encrypt Your Chats”

  1. You should update/fix your facts on TextSecure. It hasn’t been developed by Whisper Systems since that startup was acquired by Twitter in late 2011. Twitter open-sourced TextSecure and since then it has been developed by Open Whisper Systems.

    Open Whisper Systems is a non-profit software group that consists of Moxie Marlinspike, Tyler Reinhardt, Lilia Kai, Frederic Jacobs, Jake McGinty, Rhodey Orbits + a large community of volunteer Open Source contributors.

    TextSecure is available on iOS as Signal.

    Obvious benefits that you missed:
    * Ad-free.
    * All messages are encrypted end-to-end.
    * TextSecure messages practice perfect forward security.

    Fix this: “User A [can] trick User B into sending a message intended for User A to a third user without User B’s knowledge” is NOT related to “If a user’s password is cached in the phone, new texts will appear in plain text in the notification center”. They are separate issues, the latter of which was resolved in an update long ago.

    Sources:
    https://whispersystems.org/
    https://whispersystems.org/blog/welcome/
    https://eprint.iacr.org/2014/904.pdf

    Also, you should change the Telegram section’s title from “Telegram” to “Telegram Secret Chats”. Telegram standard messages are NOT encrypted end-to-end.

  2. Binfer messaging app is private. Also, it is free. The link is http://www.binfer.com

  3. And what about Safebash? it launched in 2014.

    https://safebash.com

  4. Zipit Chat is another secured application..

    http://zipitchat.com.my/

  5. […] Source: Who Is Hosting This […]

  6. […] Source: Who Is Hosting This […]

  7. TextSecure no longer encrypts SMS, the app has been forked into SMSSecure.

  8. Great article! I love the large number of facts and how it is presented.

    One addition: Telegram group chats cannot be encrypted. This is a big drawback.

  9. You missed out the single most secure one of all, PryvateNow which ihas has 4096-bit encryption, with AES 256-bit key management

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