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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Best Messaging Apps in 2021 – Privacy and Security

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Every person has the right to privacy. Whether it’s the privacy we have at home, in trial rooms at the local fashion store, or while connecting with loved ones and friends online. Physical privacy is a simple notion to grasp and monitor; if you are not being observed or listened to by anybody else, you are safe. Online privacy is a little more challenging to comprehend and enforce.

Whether you’re emailing mission-critical papers or sending photographs to a loved one, the ability to keep our online conversations private (and safe) should be a fundamental right for all internet users.

Fortunately, because of improvements in software and technology, staying safe online is becoming easier. You no longer have to rely on antiquated and inefficient modes of communication such as fax, SMS, or email. Instant messengers are all too prevalent these days, but they aren’t all created equal.

The possibilities are nearly limitless, and you may already be using some of the most popular applications available. It appears that everyone uses a separate app to communicate, which can be difficult to manage. We are noticing a surge in Cryptocurrency/Blockchain-related messaging applications in particular.

However, there are a handful of apps worth mentioning that adhere to the given standards and genuinely care about their users’ security and privacy. 

Here is a list of some of the popular instant messaging apps and an analysis of their privacy protection:

WhatsApp

Whatsapp is currently the most popular messaging app around the world. The network has over 1.5 billion users and was bought by Facebook, which now offers a free app to small-to-medium-sized and corporate organizations. Since 2016, WhatsApp has enabled and implemented end-to-end encryption, allowing users to communicate more securely.

In terms of security, encryption improves communication privacy and protects users’ messages from impostors or harmful actors. While security loopholes may emerge, if thieves access WhatsApp today, they would be unable to decode your chats. This is because of the encryption and that WhatsApp does not store your communications on its servers.

However, WhatsApp’s massive user base is an easy target for hackers, most of whom focus on the WhatsApp Web. It has been vulnerable to:

  • Hackers, criminals, and scammers who have passed off malicious software as WhatsApp desktop application.

  • Some of these websites pose as WhatsApp Web, requesting your phone number to join the service.

  • The backup file on iCloud or Google Drive is unencrypted. This file is potentially susceptible to attacks and weakens WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption because it contains unencrypted versions of all your communications.

WhatsApp’s creators originally planned it for individuals to post status updates, akin to Facebook’s statuses, in 2009. However, the app’s messaging function drew Facebook’s attention when it purchased it in 2014. WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, but its ownership raises worries about how it may turn out.

Privacy & Security Rating
3.5/5

Pros

Cons

Snapchat

Snapchat has nearly 300 million monthly active users. It is especially popular among young adults. Users of all ages may join the site to exchange photos, videos, and text messages. Many of these communications offer details about our daily lives. In late 2018, Snapchat enabled end-to-end encryption on its network.

The platform uses end-to-end encryption for photographs exchanged between Snapchat users. Text messages and other messages transmitted using Snapchat are not encrypted in the same way. Because Snapchat doesn’t release much information about the encryption it employs, it might be difficult to fully comprehend what happens to your messages after they reach Snap’s servers.

Snapchat is significantly more secure now that it utilizes encryption on images and videos transmitted through the app. However, just because your messages are encrypted does not guarantee that your information is entirely secure. Here are some facts to prove it:

  • The FTC charged Snapchat in 2013 for misleading consumers about the “disappearing nature” of communications exchanged through the site.

  • Amnesty International awarded Snapchat a score of 26 out of 100 in October 2016 for its lack of openness and action on messaging privacy. AI also observed that while Snapchat’s privacy policy expressed a strong commitment to privacy, it did not do enough to protect the privacy of its customers.

  • Only you have access to your Memories. They are, however, saved on Snapchat’s servers. As a result, if Snapchat is hacked, these images and videos may be made public.
Privacy & Security Rating
2/5

Pros

Cons

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger has comparable features to WhatsApp, but users should be cautious regarding possible privacy problems because Facebook owns it. Facebook Messenger only communicates with other users of Facebook Messenger. If Facebook Messenger users wish to improve the app’s security, they must actively enable E2EE encryption

End-to-end encrypted conversations will not enable GIFs, calls, or videos. Still, Facebook users will be able to set durations on messages, allowing threads to self-destruct after a specified period of time, similar to Snapchat Snaps. Messenger’s encryption is also built on the Open Whisper System’s Signal Protocol, which whistleblower Edward Snowden favors.

Because the Facebook Messenger software does not encrypt communications by default, Facebook may see all the photographs and texts you send.

In reality, Facebook has admitted that it employs technologies to snoop on your Facebook chats and photos. Even if a human doesn’t always view these communications, it’s still a highly dubious business choice and the polar opposite of privacy.

  • Facebook Messenger is only considered “secure” if you use the Secret Conversations feature.

  • Even though Secret Conversations has been a feature of Facebook Messenger since 2016, many users today are unaware of its existence.

  • Since your messages are not end-to-end encrypted, Facebook, law enforcement, hackers, overbearing governments, or anybody who understood what they were doing might read them.

Overall, Facebook Messenger is at a disadvantage when it comes to the privacy protection of users and end-to-end encryption policy. 

Privacy & Security Rating
1/5

Pros

Cons

WeChat

WeChat is China’s most popular digital platform, with over 1.2 billion monthly active users in the first quarter of 2020. The app is much more than simply a chat room. WeChat is China’s most popular app for social networking, banking, eCommerce, business, information, customer service, brand reputation development, and pretty much everything else. To summarize, if you want to do business in China, you must use WeChat.

However, WeChat, like other cloud channels, is a black box. Enterprises cannot observe what their workers are doing on WeChat without the use of different technologies. Because of this lack of visibility, adequate WeChat security is challenging to implement, and it opens the door to all types of digital dangers.

WeChat is China’s largest digital platform, so it’s no surprise that it’s also a popular haunt for hackers. According to a Supreme People’s Court study, WeChat was the most commonly utilized digital application by fraudsters in 2019. WeChat was used in more than half of the online fraud instances probed by Chinese police. Identity theft was responsible for 31.52 percent of all WeChat scams, while online fraud was responsible for 17.67 percent.

  • Outside of China, hackers are constantly designing banking Trojans that imitate popular social networking applications, such as WeChat, to get access to and steal user information. Cerberus, a recent banking Trojan, is capable of taking user rights and granting them to itself.

  • Scams on WeChat, such as the ones described above, often begin with ransomware assaults in the form of malicious links and attachments. Phishing attacks carried out over WeChat will almost always entail some social engineering. Enterprises cannot safeguard their workers from cyber risks if they cannot look into their employees’ WeChat accounts.

  • This lack of visibility also allows for insider threats. Every year, billions of private records are compromised across businesses. Almost 90% are penetrated by insiders, both malicious and unintentional. WeChat lacks an end-to-end encryption security feature, making it easy for state-sponsored actors to access and recover information.

  • Finally, there are significant compliance concerns with WeChat. In an interview, Tencent, which owns WeChat, claimed that WeChat servers are located outside of China and are therefore not subject to Chinese law. But in fact, all information posted on WeChat is likely to be accessible to the authorities.
Privacy & Security Rating
1/5

Pros

Cons

Telegram

Telegram is one of the most user-friendly options, and it bills itself as the “fastest.” Connect your Telegram account to your contact number, and you’ll be able to use the app to securely exchange chat messages via the cloud. Messages can even be configured to self-destruct. Telegram is encrypted. It secures everything, including chats, groups, media, and so on. It also features entertaining photo- and video-editing capabilities, as well as a sticker/GIF platform, allowing you to be creative with your discussions. 

This is one of the platforms that we came across that genuinely cares about its user’s privacy and actively promotes it on the app. All the instant messaging apps don’t even come close to Telegram’s privacy policy and end-to-end encryption; here’s why:

  • All Telegram secret conversations are device-specific and not part of the Telegram cloud, which means you can only read messages in a secret chat from the device from where they originated. Your private talks are protected if your gadget is secure.

  • Telegram’s users benefit from two levels of safe encryption, which is a crucial advantage. Server-to-client encryption is supported by both private and group cloud chats, while secret conversations support client-to-client encryption.

  • Telegram does not use a MAC-then-Encrypt, Encrypt-then-MAC, or MAC-and-Encrypt paradigm, but rather the MTProto Mobile Protocol. App developers benefit from a faster and more complete message verification procedure, allowing for the safe and quiet rejection of incorrect or damaged messages.

Telegram’s popularity, particularly among millennials and young users, distinguishes it from the competition. It owes its popularity to the notion that it is more private than other instant messaging applications available, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

Privacy & Security Rating
5/5

Pros

Cons

Signal

When it comes to reaching security and privacy-enabled features, Signal is arguably the greatest all-around bet. However, since it is not a default software within phones, it misses the users of the Messages and Messenger applications. The inventor of TextSecure, Open Whisper Systems, began developing Signal, which employed end-to-end encryption to protect the delivery of instant messaging, group messages, attachments, and media messages to other TextSecure users.

Since its introduction, Signal has been a darling of the information security community, but it has also increased popularity among regular users. Here’s something that you should know about Signal:

  • Encryption was always at the heart of the company’s offerings. When Twitter bought it in 2011, the objective was to strengthen the microblogging platform’s security. TextSecure was combined with RedPhone, an encrypted voice-calling software, in 2015, and the firm was renamed Signal.

  • Its encryption engine is open source, which implies that anybody may inspect it.

  • Notable players in cybersecurity and data privacy, such as Edward Snowden, utilize Signal. That’s because all communication on Signal is encrypted end-to-end by default. It is one of the few encrypted messaging apps that use this default approach.

  • The software just received a $50 million investment from WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, which will help the non-profit Signal Foundation achieve its aim of “making private communication accessible and ubiquitous.”

  • WIRED recommends Signal for encrypted texting because it is free and it works on every mobile device. The developers are devoted to keeping it simple by avoiding advertisements, web-tracking, stickers, or animations.

The best thing is that no PIN numbers or special logins are required. Messages can also self-destruct after a certain period of time. There’s also a new Chrome browser plugin for desktops if you want to utilize Signal from your PC.

Privacy & Security Rating
5/5

Pros

Cons

Wrapping up...

Most individuals don’t even think about their messaging app; they simply check alerts on a daily basis. However, there are differences between them, the most significant of which is security, because all communication is quick and nearly instantaneous. Is it possible for hackers to gain access to your linked device via a flaw in the messaging app? Yes, it’s possible, and break-ins happen more often than you’d imagine.

Furthermore, encryption prohibits applications from keeping copies of your messages on their servers.

Please keep in mind that end-to-end encryption is not a security panacea that will keep you safe from government monitoring. Even if you use a secure messaging app, anybody with access to your smartphone may read your messages. The best method to secure your messaging applications is to use a different password or biometrics (facial, fingerprint, or iris) on your smartphone.

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