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The best secure messaging apps

As communication moves to messaging apps, it’s imperative to know which secure messaging apps incorporate strong features.

Messaging apps have become the de facto form of communication for a large chunk of the world. The growth of this field has been exponential and has allowed for a great democratization of communication worldwide. As such, it is essential to make sure the services you are using are secure. These are the best secure messaging apps available.

The beauty of secure messaging apps is the ability to keep conversations more private than ever before. End-to-end encryption is the tool most utilized by these apps to ensure messages aren’t intercepted or read by third parties.

Messaging apps allow users to chat and send messages, photos, video and graphics over Internet connections rather than operator-based SMS. 

These apps aim to prevent third parties, governments, bad actors and even the groups who own and run the apps from reading your messages.

Most of the most popular social media apps now include messaging components. That includes apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

Unfortunately, not every messaging app has the best interests of its users’ privacy in mind.

Neither Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, nor Snapchat utilizes end-to-end encryption.

What are the most popular messaging apps?

The most popular messaging app worldwide is WhatsApp, which has almost twice as many users as Facebook Messenger as of a 2021 report by Statista.

Two billion people use WhatsApp on a monthly basis, according to the report. Facebook purchased WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014. The second-largest messaging app is also run by Facebook: Facebook Messenger. 

You really can’t escape the Facebook family if you’re trying to use the most popular messaging apps in the world!

The good news on the privacy front is that apps such as Telegram, which promote robust privacy features, are growing in popularity. There were 500 million monthly users as of January 2021, according to Statista.

Best secure messaging apps

What should I look for in secure features?

When you are deciding on a secure messaging app, there are several features you should be looking for. The most important three are end-to-end encryption and multi-platform support.

End-to-end encryption is the standard in secure messenger apps and ensures that whatever message is being sent cannot be read by anyone outside of the intended party. This is the safest mode of messaging as of 2021.

End-to-end encryption works by encrypting the message at both ends of the communications (as the name suggests.) Users need a locally stored key to decrypt a message. These types of messages can’t be saved on servers, preventing the messaging services from saving your messages and avoiding a possible leak in the future or intrusion.

A second aspect of strong, secure messenger apps is the ability to use multiple platforms. This allows users to send secure messages across desktop platforms as well as mobile platforms and delete them from either.

Related: The ultimate guide to digital security and privacy tools

The best secure messaging apps

The best secure messaging apps go beyond simply encrypting texts. They also ensure that all files, video messages and phone calls are encrypted as well.

Here is our list of the best secure messaging apps currently available as of June 2021.

1. Signal

Privacy experts consider Signal to be the best overall secure messaging app. The app, which is free on iOS and Android devices is open source, meaning anyone can inspect the code behind the app to ensure that there is nothing fishy going on.

Secondly, the app offers the top encryption on the market, according to industry experts. The encryption protocol is so strong that other companies such as WhatsApp rely on it.

The app has enough power to go with its encryption capabilities to make it a mainstream option. It supports group chats and sending photos and files via encryption. Signal also offers disappearing messages similar to the model Snapchat invented (insecurely). 

2. WhatsApp

WhatsApp showcases all the features and has been widely adopted, making it one of, if not the top, choices for secure messaging apps. The problem with Signal is that both users must have the app for the messages to be sent securely. Not everyone has Signal, but a huge chunk of the world is already using WhatsApp.

Almost 90% of people in the majority of the world’s countries use WhatsApp. 

WhatsApp’s chats are encrypted fully by default, as well as video calls, group chats, file sharing and everything else it can do. As we mentioned before, WhatsApp utilizes Signal’s encryption protocols, which is a great thing.

Where things get tricky with WhatsApp is the F Word. Facebook. WhatsApp, while owned by Facebook, maintains that Facebook can’t read your messages due to end-to-end encryption. It does log data for marketing purposes.

3. Telegram

Telegram, which is free for Android and iOS users, has strong privacy features. But, unlike WhatsApp and Signal, those settings aren’t default.

Telegram allows users to create accounts via their phone numbers. Users can enter Secret Chat mode to enable end-to-end encryption on chats. Telegram also offers a self-destruct messaging feature like Signal.

Telegram’s encryption methods are custom and haven’t been audited to the extent that Signal has. That doesn’t mean they aren’t strong, but they haven’t been tested to the same extent.

4. Wire

Wire has all of the aspects one looks for in a secure messaging app. The service features end-to-end encryption by default on messages, voice messages and video calls. The service also allows for file sharing securely. 

Wire has cross-platform synchronization as well as the ability for multiple accounts. The encryption protocol is based on Signal’s and is also open-source, giving the service more trustworthiness. 

The downsides of Wire are its limited usage on a global scale, making it a bit of a stretch to use as an everyday messaging app. One of the only red flags is that the company behind Wire moved to the United States, which is not known for the strongest privacy laws.

5. Wickr

Wickr is one of the strongest messaging apps from a privacy perspective. One of the most appealing aspects is that a phone number is not required for use.

Users can create accounts without an email as well. 

Wickr is open-source, doesn’t collect any of its users’ data or metadata and automatically deletes conversations on the platform.

The service is free, but to use encryption on group video calls, users must purchase a paid version. 

More tips and tricks

The key to online privacy and security is diversification. You can’t just use one technique to keep yourself safe and your data protected. So, just as you start using secure messaging apps, you may want to consider expanding into these privacy apps for Android. There are also plenty of privacy apps for iOS that can improve your overall online security.

Other than that, check out our tips for better digital hygiene. This will give you all kinds of tools for reducing your vulnerability to hackers. With the cost of identity theft increasing, it can be a worthwhile investment!

Related: Private browsing how to: Tips to shield your browsing history