With so many newsletters coming out every year about hacked computers and mobile phones, the need for safe and secure ways to chat privately continues to grow.
Unfortunately, any chat conversation hosted on a server anywhere on the internet, encrypted or not, is vulnerable to hacking. Therefore, the gold standard in chat privacy is end-to-end encryption.
In this article, you will learn how end-to-end encryption works and the top 6 chat apps that offer it.
What is End-to-End Encryption?
Their key (pun intended) to properly encrypted digital communications is the creation of both a public and a private key.
The “key” is a special code that can unlock the transmission of encrypted information. An end-to-end encryption script works like this:
- The sender and receiver apps both have a private key and a public key. The user’s private key is securely stored on the user’s device. The public key is stored on the server that transmits the message.
- When the sender sends a message to the recipient, the recipient can only open the message with the private key stored only on their device and the public key known only by the device and the server.
- When the recipient receives the message, the application uses the public and private keys to open the message and decrypt it.
- This process continues back and forth as the sender and receiver exchange messages.
Since encryption takes place at one end and is decrypted only at the other, this is called end-to-end encryption.
Messages in this case are never stored unencrypted on any server on the internet.
Years ago, there were only a few apps that offered end-to-end chat encryption, but today most major chat platforms offer fully encrypted communications or a way to ” enable” end-to-end encryption if desired.
When it comes to private conversations, teenagers have made Whatsapp a household name. Because of this reputation, Whatsapp was one of the first messaging platforms to incorporate end-to-end encryption in every message sent using the service.
Today, Whatsapp boasts over 900 million users, all sending messages as private as possible over the internet. It is available for every major phone on the mobile market, as well as for Windows and MacOS.
Encryption with Whatsapp happens between one mobile device and another. Messages are only stored on the Whatsapp server (in an encrypted format) until they can be delivered to the recipient’s phone. Messages are only permanently stored on your phone, not on any server.
If you use the desktop Whatsapp app, it still requires you to have Whatsapp installed on your phone, but the computer will sync with your phone to send and receive messages.
Signal used to be an app Edward Snowden said which he uses every day, as it is one of the safest and most reliable methods of communicating with anyone who uses the app.
Signal is developed by the non-profit organization Open Whisper Systems. It’s an open source app, which means you can be confident that no hidden backdoor code is intended to track your communications.
Like most other encrypted apps, Signal only allows you to communicate with other users who have Signal installed. End-to-end encryption works directly from one phone to another, and messages are fully encrypted. No messages are stored online anywhere.
You can delete a message instantly by simply tapping and holding the message. Just remember that the messages also live on other users’ phones, so they’ll need to delete on their own to completely destroy the conversation once it’s over.
Like Whatsapp, there is a desktop version of Signal, but it needs to be linked to your phone to work.
Wire allows you to exchange encrypted voice or video calls, as well as IM chats. Unlike Whatsapp or Signal, it does not require a phone number to work.
This means that when you install the desktop version, your endpoint becomes your computer instead of your phone.
Like Signal, Wire is an open source application, so you can be sure it doesn’t have security holes or malicious code. The fact that you don’t need to sign up with your phone number (only email) gives you greater privacy than the other apps listed here.
Using a free, anonymous email account allows you to send truly anonymous messages.
However, keep in mind that with that anonymity and end-to-end encryption there comes a small cost. Wire does not maintain metadata related to messages, including the contacts you have chatted with and related information about the chats.
For those who really care about security, you will be shocked that this is not one of the more popular private messaging apps.
In addition to end-to-end encryption like other apps, Wickr goes a step further and lets you maintain full control over where and for how long the messages you send are stored.
It allows you to do this by giving you 5 red buttons when you send a message. These buttons allow you to:
- Set the length of time before the message is automatically deleted from the recipient’s device.
- Send a photo.
- Record and send voice messages.
- Attached File.
All transmissions, regardless of type, are fully encrypted on your device and decrypted only on the receiver’s device.
Using Wickr, you can trust that hackers will not only be unable to access your messages on any server or in transit, but will also be thwarted from trying to access them by breaking into receiver’s device.
Wickr is available on multiple platforms and mobile devices.
You might not expect to see Skype listed in our collection of privacy messaging apps. However, Microsoft decided to add end-to-end encryption to Skype after realizing how important privacy is becoming for users of these apps.
This recent addition to Skype is not enabled by default. However, you can start a private, encrypted chat by clicking + Chat above your contact list and select
New private chat.
When a new chat is launched, all messages sent back and forth are encrypted on your device and decrypted on the recipient’s device.
Remember that encrypted chat only works from one specific device to another. If you’re switching from desktop to phone, you’ll need to start a new private conversation and the recipient will need to accept your new invitation.
Another messaging app you might not expect to show up in the list of apps with end-to-end encryption is Facebook Messenger. But even Facebook has entered the encryption game by adding this important privacy and security feature to its flagship messaging service.
To send a secret message on iOS:
- Clap Homeand then the edit icon to start a new message.
- Clap Secret
in the upper right.
- Select the recipient of the message.
- Touch timer
in the text box if you want to make the message disappear after a certain amount of time.
To send a secret message on Android:
- Touch Home page
then launch a new Messenger conversation with the recipient.
- Touch information icon at the top right.
- Clap Go to Secret Conversations.
- Touch timer
to make the notification disappear after a certain amount of time.
You can’t send secret messages using Facebook Messenger on the web. It is only available for iOS or Android Apps.
With end-to-end encryption enabled, you can be confident that no one will be able to intercept your chats, and by canceling messages after a certain time, nothing will be stored on your device. your device for hackers to read.
The only caveat is that when the recipient sends you a message, they also need to remember to set a timer so that both ends of the conversation will be destroyed once the conversation is over.
Use an encrypted chat app
Is it paranoid to want to use private chat clients with end-to-end encryption?
In today’s world, where hacking is commonplace and where foreign countries are even interested in monitoring citizens on a regular basis, one can never be too careful.
Use one of the messaging apps above and keep your chats secure. You can never be too secure when it comes to your personal privacy.