It’s no surprise that encryption has become more popular these days. With increased government surveillance, cyber crimes and countless hacking attempts, it’s wise to protect data in every form, documents, videos, photos, passwords, and even messages.
In this article, we will understand what is encryption, and see the best 7 applications for encrypted messaging.
Also read: Is Vexmovies safe? Top 7 alternatives.
What is encryption?
Encryption is a method of securing the information so that it cannot be read except by someone who you share the key with, usually called a cypher or password. When information is encrypted, it can only be read by a certain key or cypher. Cyphers are typically used to protect sensitive data like credit card numbers and passwords, and should be avoided if at all possible. The main goal of most encryption software is to convert text into something that can’t be easily decrypted, which is essential for any type of secure communication. That being said, even if you use the most secure cypher available, there’s still a chance someone could determine your password or key and decrypt your information. Encryption also works by scrambling data in order to make it different from what it would normally look like. This is true with any type of encryption, but is especially evident with the various cyphers.
Once the cypher is chosen and set up in the encryption program, the next step is to actually send the information. Encrypted messages can be sent either from a web-based interface or via texting. Web-based encryption software has increased in popularity recently, and copying and pasting messages have become easier than ever. However, this method isn’t as secure as some people might expect it to be; It’s easy for others to see what one is sending, both from the recipient’s end and from their own end when reading their comment logs or social media feeds. Depending on how secure the passphrase is, it might be trickier to decrypt the message if the decryption key is not there. This brings us to texting. Texting with encryption will always require a recipient to copy their key with each message in order for your message to be read. If both the parties have already copied their keys, then the messages are unreadable by anyone but themselves.
There are plenty of cyphers out there to choose from. Some people feel that one cypher is better than another because they believe it’s more secure or that it has more features that make it easier to use.
Also read: Top 7 AnyDesk alternatives.
Developed by Apple and launched in 2011, iMessage is an instant messaging application. iMessage works between Apple devices, like iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks only, otherwise, it is similar to a regular SMS feature.
iMessage always uses end-to-end encryption for iPhones, iPads and Mac, hence only the sender and receiver can view the contents of that chat. Along with messages, iMessage also encrypts photos, videos and any other attachments. FaceTime also provides E2E encryption for audio and video calls.
Although the encryption of iMessage is very strong, there is one drawback. If iCloud backup is enabled, then Apple also receives a key that was used to encrypt the backup. The backups are not end-to-end encrypted, and any backup of iMessage is available and accessible through the Apple server.
Released in 2014, Signal is available for Android, iOS and Desktop users. It is an instant messaging service, where users can send both individual one-on-one messages and group messages, including files, images, videos and voice notes.
Signal uses end-to-end encryption, ensuring that no one can intercept and read the messages between a sender and receiver. The feature of E2E encryption is enabled by default in Signal. The messages are encrypted before they are sent, and are decrypted only after reaching the desired recipient’s device. The messages are encoded such that only the recipient’s device can unlock or decode the message. Signal is completely transparent in its security and privacy operations, and never collects, shares or uses any data for commercial profits.
It is an entirely open-source project, licenced under the GPLv3 licence, that is, the grants and donations completely support it. Hence, Signal puts user experience first and removes any creepy advertising and tracking out of the app.
Threema was released in 2012 and formally launched in 2014. It is a paid instant messaging application for Android, iOS and desktop. It offers peer-to-peer messaging, group chats, VoIP calls and file sharing. Threema meets the requirements of Switzerland’s strict data-protection laws and is fully compliant with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It offers two versions – one for individuals and the other for work.
Along with providing end-to-end encryption, Threema also makes its application completely anonymous. Every time a user signs up, a unique and random Threema ID is generated. This makes user tracking and logging very difficult. Threema doesn’t ask for any unique identifiers like email ID or phone number. Along with texts, voice notes, audio and video calls, documents and files are also E2E encrypted. Another unique feature is that they minimise any footprint on the servers. All messages and contacts are stored on each user’s device and not the server.
Since all the data is stored on the user device, all the data is safe, unless the device is lost. Threema offers a feature known as Threema Safe. It is a platform-independent system for backing up the Threema ID, contacts, groups and any other data that is synced. By default, this backup is stored on the company servers, but the user always has an option to configure and store the backup on any server of their choice.
Initially released in 2014, Wire is available to iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Linux users, and on browsers like Firefox. It is a communication application offering messaging, audio calls, video calls, conference calls, and file-sharing. Wire offers three options built on its security: Wire Pro, Wire Enterprise and Wire Red. This pro version is used by corporate organisations for in-house communications. The app also features video calling with up to 10 people at the same time. You also get directional audio on such calls.
Wire is a hundred per cent open-source application, with its code is available on GitHub. All the messages on Wire use end-to-end encryption. It is also GDPR/CCPA compliant. Proteus is the messaging protocol used by Wire, which uses multiple encryption algorithms, namely Curve25519, ChaCha20 and HMAC-SHA256. Audio and video messages are also secure with the WebRTC algorithm that provides Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). The main advantage of PFS is that it negotiates a new encryption key for each and every message. Hence, if an encryption key is leaked by mistake, it will not be able to decrypt the entire chat, but only one message.
Messages are required to pass through the company servers, but are stored there only until the receiver comes online. Wire got its testing done externally, and also published its results. The bugs and problems found were resolved immediately by the team. Wire also publishes a transparency report every year.
From the parent company Amazon Web Services (AWS), Wickr Me was founded in 2012. It is an instant messaging application based on the concept of peer-to-peer communication. It allows users to share messages, files transfers of up to 5 GB and even make video calls, and provides a feature of disappearing messages. The application is available on iOS, Android, macOS, Windows 10, and Linux operating systems.
Wickr provides a 256-bit authenticated end-to-end encryption. It features content-expiring messages, screenshot notifications, secure screen share and E2E encryption for messages, files and audio/video calls. All the encryption is done locally on the user’s device itself. All messages, files and calls are encrypted with new and random keys every time.
If the servers of Wickr are attacked at any point, even then customer communication will not get leaked since all the content is indecipherable during its transmission and once delivered, it gets deleted. Data can also be auto-deleted after a given amount of time of being sent or read, depending on the settings. After completing the specified amount of time, all the data is replaced with random code bits. Wickr also implements open-source crypto and runs a rewards-based bug bounty program along with third-party audits.
Rakuten Viber or Viber is a VoIP and instant messaging cross-platform application released in 2010. It is available for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS and Linux platforms. Using Viber, one can perform audio and video calls, group chat with up to 250 people and calls with up to 20 people, along with messaging, sending pictures and videos and making free calls. The application does not require any username and password, but only a phone number. Viber also provides a subscription, using which you can make cellular calls to non-Viber users as well.
All personal and group chats and calls are end-to-end encrypted in Viber. Features like hidden chats, message requests and personal data management, setting ‘online’ and ‘read’ statuses and others can be set based on your preferences. You can also determine who can add you to group chats. Viber also provides auto spam checks.
Viber does not have any time limitation on deleting messages sent by mistake. They can be deleted immediately, after weeks or even months without any issues. Along with the disappearing messages, chats can also be hidden on Viber.
Cyber Dust or Dust is an instant messaging application. It does not provide audio or video call functionality, nor does it allow recording or voice messages. There are no premium features or add-ons, and all the functions on the application are free and available to all.
Dust is end-to-end encrypted. It allows secure sync of contacts, such that none of the contacts is compromised, and dust users can be found easily. Even if a message or photo or video is sent to multiple people together using the blast feature in Dust, every message is read individually and privately.
All chats in Dust are generally disappearing chats. No message or media can be stored in the chat by the user. If a message is left unread, it gets auto-deleted in 24 hours, and if it is read, then within 100 seconds, the message gets deleted. After the message is deleted, there is no way to recover the message. On Android, taking a screenshot is not possible in the application, and for iOS users, a screenshot notification is sent to the other user. The application also has a private watchdog functionality, that allows searching the internet without any compromise in privacy.