•May 5th 2020
Messaging apps make it easy to communicate and connect with people around the world. However, with new ways to communicate and connect via technology, there are also new ways for your privacy and security to be breached. Private messages could potentially be read by third parties, the organizations behind the apps, and governments who collect private information on their citizens. It’s useful to remember that popular apps like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook Messenger do not use end-to-end encryption, so your conversations and files may not be fully secured. On the other hand, there are many chat apps that offer messaging services that have upped their game on the security and privacy fronts by using end-to-end encryption. This measure prohibits anyone from seeing the contents of the message except for you and the intended recipient. The best secure chat programs are not only becoming more sought-after, they are becoming crucial in today’s technologically-connected world.
Features To Consider When Selecting a Service
What is Secure Messaging?
Secure messaging can involve a lot of elements, so we have chosen the most important factors to qualify an application to be a secure messaging app. End-to-end encryption, multi-mode messaging, and synchronization among different platforms/devices are the three main keys to look for when deciding on the best messaging program to use.
- End-to-end encryption is a way of creating secure messaging apps by encrypting information so that only the players engaged in communication can read the messages, excluding Internet service providers, the app maker, the government or anyone else. From the moment a message is typed, to the time it spends in transit, to the second it’s received, no one else can see that message. Currently, this method is the safest, most private method of messaging. If an app is not end-to-end encrypted, deem it non-private. The message only decrypts using a locally stored key or secret code when it passes from the sender to the receiver, ensuring direct secure messaging. Encryption does not allow copies of messages to be stored anywhere, including on servers.
- Multi-mode communication allows for users to send messages through texts, videos, and audios When a platform allows for messages to be send via multiple modes, it usually allows the user to delete whatever kind of message comes through.
- Multi-platform support provides the opportunity to sync messages across mobile, web, and desktop platforms. If a user feels more secure storing private messages in one location and deleting them off of another, this can up one's data privacy.
The Best Apps for Secure Communication
There are a multitude of viable, available options out there when choosing a secure messaging program that emphasizes data privacy. We have created a list of the best, most reliable messaging apps that keep your information secure and confidential- to make our list, an app must have end-to-end encryption, synchronization over multiple platforms/devices (mobile, desktop, tablets), and multi-mode communication (voice, video, audio). Then, we have listed out additional features after those key ones that make an app secure.
Here is our take on the best secure messaging apps on the market today:
1. Signal Private Messenger
Signal: Speak freely
Millions of people use Signal for instant, free, and encrypted communication because it is known as one of the most secure messaging apps on the market. Signal secure messaging is one of the only apps that has its privacy-preserving technology always enabled; this default system ensures that there is never a risk of sharing moments or sending messages to a non-intended recipient. Signal is a cross-platform encrypted messaging service dedicated to end-to-end encrypted voice calling and encrypted texting. Encryption has always been the core of the company’s product, and when it was acquired by Twitter, the aim was to improve its privacy-protecting platform even further. For more security, users have the ability to choose different disappearing message intervals for each conversation that they have saved in their chat history. Signal is an Open Source project supported by donations and grants, so there are no advertisements, no affiliate marketers, and no secret tracking. Signal doesn’t have the keys to decrypt messages, so the company will never have access to content its users are exchanging.
- Open Source Protocol
- Self-destructing messages after given time frame
- Uses phone’s data connection to void SMS and MSS fees
- Encrypted stickers
- Group chat
- View-once media
Cost: FREE w/ no ads
Number of Users: Signal doesn’t publish statistics about how many users they have, but Android’s Google Play store reports that Signal has been downloaded between 1 and 5 million times, and the iPhone App Store does not publish this data.
Wire: The most secure collaboration platform
Another secure chat app option is Wire. Wire is another one of the very few apps that sets end-to-end encryption as the default to protect your messages, images, and files. Wire’s encryption works transparently in the background and does not need to be activated because it is always on. Additionally, a new encryption key is used for every message, reducing the impact of a single compromised key. It is 100% open source, so its source code is available for users to verify, inspect, and improve through GitHub. Wire does not sell analytics or usage data to third parties. This secure messaging program› is fully compliant with the strict data protection laws in Switzerland and the European Union, and it’s the most publicly audited collaboration and communication software on the market.
- Timed/ephemeral conversations
- 100% open source
- File sharing
- Group Chats
Cost: Free version for personal use and paid one for organizations (large enterprises) w/ no ads
Number of Users: Wire reported that its daily active users are in the hundreds of thousands.
Threema: Seriously secure messaging
Threema is a private chat messaging app that prides itself on its guiding principle: the restraint on metadata. To ensure that no data is misused, Threema’s servers permanently delete a message after it has been delivered to the recipient. Information usually managed on a server is managed locally on the user’s device, meaning that any type of conversation is protected against eavesdropping. By design, there is no fallback to decrypted connections, so nobody else except for the intended recipient can read a Threema message. Threema is open source, so users can independently verify the correctness of the encryption. Additionally, you don’t have to provide an email or phone number to sign up, which helps offer you an extra layer of security.
- Create polls
- Chat anonymously
- Develop distribution lists
- Hide confidential chats and use passwords to protect them
- Verify contacts through QR code
Number of Users: 4.5 million
Telegram: A new era of messaging
Telegram is a popular platform for heavily encrypted conversations. Voice calls and group chats involve end-to-end encryption (if both parties have Telegram). There is an option to self-destruct messages, files, photos, and videos in a certain amount of time after they have been sent and received. It even has self-destructing messages. For a more secure messaging experience, users can turn on secret chats from the app’s advanced settings, which forces the app on the other side of the secret chat to delete messages if you choose to do so. These kinds of chats are device-specific, so you can only access them from their device of origin. If your device is secure, your secret chats will be, too.
- Private messages can self-destruct
- Distributed servers are spread globally for security and speed
- Open API and protocol
- No limits on the size of media and chats
- Ability to coordinate groups of up to 200,000 members
- Messages can be destroyed with a timer
- Send documents of any type
Cost: FREE w/ no ads
Number of Users: Over 200 million
WhatsApp: Simple. Secure. Reliable messaging
WhatsApp is the only app where users are explicitly warned when end-to-end encryption is not applied to a particular chat. WhatsApp was one of the first chat apps that enabled and implemented end-to-end encryption for more secure communication. WhatsApp does not store messages on its servers, so if cybercriminals were to hack into the platform, they wouldn’t be able to decrypt any of the messages. Additionally, WhatsApp does not have the key to see encrypted messages. By default, WhatsApp stores its messages in a way that allows them to be backed up to the cloud by iOS or Android. However, WhatsApp allows users to remove chats from these cloud backups. The drawback of WhatsApp is that it is not independent of a big tech company (in this case, Facebook), which is another feature to look for when analyzing the security of an app.
- Ability to share messages, photos, and videos with up to 256 people at once
- Free video calls using phone’s Internet connection instead of cell plan’s voice minutes to avoid calling charges
- Built-in camera
- Document sharing
Number of Users: 1.5 billion
6. Wickr Me
Wickr: The most secure & private collaboration platform
Wickr is one of the only secure messaging apps that can truly be used anonymously. This application allows users to communicate with others either one-to-one or in groups with fully encrypted text messages, voice messages and memos. Wickr can be a collaboration tool instead of just a messaging app as there is the ability to share screens, locations, and online statuses. Wickr does not require an email address or phone number upon registration, ensuring that user data is not collected and therefore, the app does not have access to it. Encryption is turned on by default, and transparency reports are available to anyone who uses Wickr. This application uses Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) and supports Two-Factor Authentication (2FA). Wickr does not log IP Addresses or other metadata.
Search across all files and messages
Transfer photos, videos, and files securely (free plan: 1gb file transfer)
Create Teams and Networks to mirror your company organization
Secure screen and location sharing and online status
Up to 30 days data retention
Integration with internal database, email system, CRM, or another essential app (directly integrates with SalesForce, Jira, Zendesk)
API allows for custom integrations with in-house apps
Basic plan: Free
Number of Users: Unknown
Viber: Free and secure calls and messages to anyone, anywhere
Users can send voice and text messages, photos and videos to groups of any size using Viber. It also offers fully encrypted voice and video chats on mobile devices and major desktop operating systems as long as you select the correct sharing method. The company has stepped up its game when it comes to their end-to-end encryption as it used to be that only one-on-one communications were protected, but now group chats are also secured by E2E.
A unique feature of this app is that every chat is color-coded based on its current level of encryption:
- Green means the chat is encrypted, and the contact you are connected to is trusted.
- Grey means that the chat is encrypted, but the contact hasn’t been marked as trusted.
- Red means there is a problem authenticating the contact.
- HD video calls
- Chat Extensions allow to search GIFs, videos, restaurants, events, etc. through websites without ever leaving chat
- Trusted Contacts verify identities of who you’re chatting with by exchanging secret keys
- Instant messaging
- Service Messages
- Instant Voice message
- Public and Group Chats w/ unlimited members
- Delete Seen Messages
Number of Users: Over one billion
Silence: SMS/MMS encryption made easy
Silence used to be called “SMS Secure”, as it is a spin-off from Signal. The end-to-end encrypted app works like an SMS/MMS application, as you can use it even if you aren’t connected to the internet on your phone. Silence is regularly audited by security experts in public view to make sure the code hasn't been unlocked by any third party or government agency that wants to get its hands on users’ conversation history. Additionally, you don’t have to sign up with login credentials, upping its privacy and security status. This secure messaging app is open source, so anyone can check the code for errors or vulnerabilities.
- Prevents communications being screen-shotted at the other end
- No servers or internet connection required
- Messages encrypted locally
- Open Source
Number of Users: Unknown
iMessage: Message who you want, how you want
iMessage has always been on top of offering end-to-end encryption between users. Additionally, this secure messaging app allows users to control how long the message stays and how many times the recipient can view it. The main security issue that users complain about is the option to backup your iMessages to iCloud. Messages stored in the cloud are encrypted by keys controlled by Apple, so if your iCloud were ever hacked, those messages could be revealed. However, the solution is to avoid storing private messages on web-based platforms like iCloud for heightened security measures.
- Mute notifications or leave group chats
- Block phone numbers and contacts
- Backup iMessages through iCloud
- Tailor iMessage Settings
- Uses the Internet instead of phone network when communicating with other iOS or maOS users
- Control “Read Receipts”
- Customization of message profile/personality with GIFs, animations and Memojis
Number of Users: 1.3 billion
Line: Free messaging whenever, wherever
Line is a free, secure messaging app available for a variety of smartphone devices and PC. This secure platform was developed by a team of Japanese engineers as a way to communicate after the Tōhoku earthquake that destroyed the area in 2011. The telecommunications infrastructure was damaged throughout the country, so the only solution for communication was through Internet-connected means. Shortly after this messaging app was built, LINE added end-to-end encryption to boost privacy and called the feature “Letter Sealing”. All users can use it, but it must be turned on manually.
- Letter Sealing
- Over 10,000 Stickers of characters and celebrities
- Follow official accounts of favorite artists, celebrities, brands, and TV shows for news and promotions
- Share text, photos, and videos on Timeline
- Add friends by the “Shake It!” function, when both people shake their devices close to one another to exchange contact information
- Live Video
- OpenChat- online space to meet new friends with similar interests based on app activity (only in Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia)
Number of Users: Over 700 million
Most Secure App?
After analyzing and comparing these ten secure messaging apps, we believe that Signal is the best one to choose. It is 100% open source, and they are funded by donations and grants instead of corporate money that is dependent on user- data. Since it was created by a group called Open Whisper Systems, is was written by and has the support of some of the world’s top experts on privacy and security. Their implementation has been reviewed by the most well-known security experts and cryptographers. The messaging protocol integrated into Signal is considered to be the most secure one out of anything on the market today, proven by the fact that other services use the app’s messaging protocol for their most secure modes, including Whatsapp, Wire, Skype’s Private Conversations and Facebook Messenger’s Secret Conversations.
Signal: Say 'hello' to privacy
Need HIPAA Compliance for Healthcare Communications?
Viable communication solutions between medical organizations and patients is a need that is taking off across the healthcare industry. In this field especially, messaging platforms must be secure and HIPAA compliant. After carefully researching this specific space, you can read our take on the top ten secure healthcare messaging programs.
Didn't Find a Good Fit? Build Your App In-House
We have mapped out the best apps above, but if that's not enough, you might want to build your own platform in-house. Check out Stream's Messaging API for more information about building your own secure communication solution in-house. Stream Chat was created to be the product on the market with the most amount of features, the highest scalability, and the quickest speed, so if you want to build your own secure messaging app and don't want to worry about your customers experiencing a seamless chat solution, you've come to the right place.
The lack of comprehensive privacy on older, big-name services has led to the development of the newer apps featured above with more features focused on security. Headlines about security breaches come out day after day in our digitally-connected world, so we are forced to become more cautious about the dangers of identity and data theft. In the online world, data privacy and security matters more than ever with the looming risks of being spied on or having your conversations shared without knowing about it. Therefore, choosing to use some of the most secure chat apps to communicate with friends, family, and coworkers protects you against any kind of malicious actor trying to steal your data.
While all the secure apps mentioned in this article have end-to-end encrypted messaging, the ability to sync messages among a multitude of devices and platforms, and multi-mode communication (voice, text, video), each clearly has its strengths and weaknesses. Choosing which one to use can only be done by calculating which additional features are most important to you.