Internet privacy and safety
How to find the right messaging app
Secure messaging should help keep your data safe from prying eyes. What to look for in apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, Wickr, Confide and Tunnel.
Assessing security and usability
Messaging apps are a central part of our daily lives, but are they secure? And which should you turn to if you're concerned about your privacy?
Popular messaging apps
Many people are now turning to secure messaging platforms in light of our metadata retention regime and widespread government internet surveillance. There's Messenger, a popular spin-off from Facebook, and iOS Messages, which is found on all iPhones. But it also helps to know what else is out there. Some popular secure messaging apps include:
Not all apps are created equal
Typically, when it comes to messaging apps, there tends to be a trade-off between how easy they are to use and their level of security. Although there are no absolute guarantees when it comes to complete security protection, our testing shows that, for general use, there's good security in place with most secure messaging apps.
However, there are still some areas for concern, which are not easily solved without reducing usability – for example, if you send a user a picture, they can take a screenshot.
What about all these exploits?
There have been various vulnerabilities, holes, hacks and exploits found in messaging apps in recent years – including those billed as secure apps. So how do these happen? Experts say security codes can have small errors, and ensuring security is robust against unknown, future flaws can be very difficult.
Security audits can find flaws that we know about right now, but there is potential for components to combine in new ways and create exploits in the future. For example, an app may be shown to be very secure, but a new type of video file is released that interacts with the code in an odd way, which then introduces a security bug.
There are also vulnerabilities that can arise if a recipient's device is compromised, say by malware – the end device will decrypt the message and the malware could then view it.
Users can also contribute to weak security by using simple passwords and not adopting best practice, such as using two-factor authentication – this is where a password and a security code is required to log in.
Depending on the level of privacy you're looking for, you may want to go with a dedicated security-focused app or perhaps one of the more popular apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iOS Messages that have wider appeal.