Telegram, a messaging app, soared in popularity on the promise that it’s much more secure than its rivals. This message resonated with more than 100 million privacy-seeking users. In the age of malicious hackers, the NSA and other threats to privacy, one can never be too safe.
The problem, according to security experts, is that Telegram was never as secure as people believed.
For starters, encryption wasn’t a default setting on the app. Users who thought they were secure actually weren’t. Furthermore, the encryption technology used by the app is reportedly flawed regardless whether encryption is enabled or not.
These problems came to a head in August 2016 when Iranian hackers compromised 15 million accounts within the country. Telegram noted that the messages were intercepted because users didn’t activate two-step verification. The lesson, however, is that our Internet use is never as secure as we wish it to be.
A common refrain in the debate over Internet privacy is the “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” argument. While that argument is meant for criminals, it affects law-abiding average Joes just as much. Privacy is a human right according to the United Nations, and that right is at risk. In the past several years there have been a number of high-profile violations of privacy that have both embarrassed and sometimes ruined the people involved.
The 2015 hack of the extramarital affairs website “Ashley Madison” turned 32 million private accounts into public information. The Sony hacks of 2014 were an embarrassing headache for the company that cost tens of millions of dollars. Even the 2016 presidential election was impacted by poorly secured communications. Wikileaks published thousands of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta.
Using End-to-End Encryption
All this goes to show just how vulnerable even the most secure-seeming information is. It’s no wonder that people are seeking privacy — whether they have “something to hide” or not. Politicians, businesses and everyday people don’t like being snooped on. To prevent that from happening, many messaging apps are using a technology called end-to-end encryption.
With this encryption, essentially only the recipient and sender of the message can decrypt the message and read its content. Because only the endpoints (the sender and the recipient) hold the cryptographic keys, the message can’t, in theory, be read by anyone else.
End-to-end encryption was first invented decades ago but is now more popular than ever. Plenty of messaging apps now offer it as a feature.
While Telegram has its flaws, it’s still considered by some sources to be one of the more secure messaging apps available. However, there are other options for people who want to encrypt their messages from prying eyes. Opinions vary about which app is the best. The general consensus is that the following three are among the most secure available.
One doesn’t think of Facebook when they think of privacy. After all, the company makes its fortunes by mining its users for personal data and encouraging people to share all they can with the rest of the world. WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for a cool $22 billion in 2014, is different.
In addition to being the world’s second most popular messaging app (Facebook’s Messenger is number one), it’s also the most secure. That’s according to Amnesty International, who credits WhatsApp for being the only mainstream app “where users are explicitly warned when end-to-end encryption is not applied to a particular chat.”
Beyond that, Signal is lauded for not storing any message metadata on top of its solid end-to-end encryption capabilities.
If neither of those options suit you, then Silent Phone might fit the bill. This app works for both messages and calls. It’s considered so secure, in fact, that it’s been certified to be used within the U.S. government. However, you won’t hear of undercover CIA agents using the app behind enemy lines. The app has only been officially cleared for low-level secure work, but that’s still a feather in its cap.
Be on Guard
Technology is never completely impenetrable no matter how secure we think we are. Secure messaging apps using end-to-end encryption help greatly. Still, they aren’t perfect. For that reason, it’s best to be careful of what you say or do during a chat. Don’t be a paranoid technophobe, but do keep your guard up. Otherwise you may air your dirty laundry without meaning to.