The best encrypted messaging apps for chatting safely

January 14, 2024

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Identity Protection
  • # Phishing Protection

When you send a message, whether it’s to a friend, relative, or colleague, you want your message to stay private. But the basic messaging apps pre-installed on most phones often lack strong security, making it possible for third-parties and cyber criminals to intercept your private messages. If you want to improve your security and maintain your privacy, consider using an encrypted messaging application.

Encrypted messaging apps ensure that only you and your intended recipients can access your messages. Here’s a look at some of the best encrypted messaging apps on the market and how they can improve your privacy.

Are messaging apps secure? 

Messaging apps aim to be as secure as possible, but vulnerabilities within an app’s code could still allow criminals to gain unauthorized access to messages and user data. Recently, hackers have targeted some of the world's safest and most popular messaging apps, like Signal and WhatsApp, leaking user phone numbers, employee data, and other information. 

Many messaging apps implement several advanced security features to enhance user safety and prevent data breaches. Here are a few: 

  • End-to-end encryption (E2EE): Encrypted messaging prevents unauthorized third parties (including messaging apps themselves) from viewing the content of messages. The app will encrypt the message on the sender’s phone, turning it into an illegible code that third parties can’t read, and decrypt the message on the recipient’s device.

  • Self-destructing or ephemeral messages: These messages only exist for a short amount of time and aren’t saved in a permanent database. Once the viewing period ends, no one can retrieve these messages — including the sender and recipient. 

  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA requires users to provide multiple forms of identification (such as a password and a code from an authentication app) before accessing an account or system. This way, even if an unauthorized party gets a hold of a user’s password, they still can’t access the account without the additional forms of ID.

Even with these features, cyber criminals can still perform scams if they find a way to contact you or compromise your device. Phishing and smishing (SMS phishing) attacks are common examples, with criminals posing as trustworthy entities to try to obtain your sensitive information. Hackers may also employ SIM swapping attacks, where they take over your phone’s SIM card to steal authentication codes.

Ultimately, your security depends on you and the precautions you take while communicating through these apps.

Key features to consider when choosing a secure messaging app

A good messaging app goes beyond encryption and MFA to protect your communication and provide a user-friendly experience. Here are some essential features to consider as you weigh your options: 

  • Anonymity: If you’re looking for high-level digital privacy protection, get an application that allows you to use it without linking your account to a phone number. This way, no one can trace your conversations back to your phone.

  • Screen security: To keep outside parties from getting a look at your messages, choose an app that lets you turn off lock screen message previews and blocks chat screenshots, or at least alerts you when someone takes one. This safeguards your privacy from both curious onlookers and recipients who might share screenshots without your consent. 

  • Security audits: Pick a messaging service with nothing to hide that willingly conducts security audits to ensure its platform is as protected and compliant as possible. Open-source apps continuously undergo audits, so look for that key term in the platform’s description when considering options. 

  • Zero-knowledge architecture: Zero-knowledge architecture means that the messaging service retains no information on you or your contacts. With this feature, you don’t have to worry about the application misusing your personal information or letting it fall into the wrong hands. 

4 of the best messaging apps to consider

At baseline, a solid messaging service should provide security features like encryption, safe login procedures like extra authentication, and customizable safety features to put you in control of your experience. The following four applications are sound choices that offer these essential safety measures. 

1. WhatsApp 

With billions of people using WhatsApp daily, you’ll likely be able to find your contacts on it, making it a convenient choice. Plus, it’s free. 

All non-business accounts automatically enjoy end-to-end encryption, and optional security features like self-destructing messages are also available. The only downside is that the app does save conversations in the cloud. This means you need to constantly delete any content you don’t want stored there, which can be a hassle. 

2. Signal

Signal is a growing, free platform with tens of millions of users. Its ease of use and robust safety features, like end-to-end encryption and self-destructing messages, make it a solid option for private chats. One of the only downfalls to this application is that it sometimes experiences delays.

3. Telegram

Telegram goes beyond a typical messaging app, offering unique features like live streaming, a blogging platform, and the ability to send files of any size or type. If you have a large group you need to communicate with, it even allows you to make group chats for up to 200,000 participants. 

The app’s safety features include end-to-end encryption on certain messaging modes and self-destructing “secret” chats. Telegram doesn’t save secret conversations on its cloud, meaning they’re only ever stored on users’ devices. 

4. iMessage

iMessage is the messaging application that’s automatically installed on all Apple devices, making it a straightforward choice for anyone with an iPhone looking to message other iPhone and Apple users. iMessage users can also message friends with other kinds of devices, like Androids, in the standard SMS format. 

iMessage uses end-to-end encryption and allows you to turn message reception on and off for specific devices. iMessage also protects its younger users by automatically filtering out photographs that contain lewd content, so it’s a good option if you want to set up your children with a messaging app.    

What’s the most secure messaging app?

These four apps all offer secure messaging opportunities, but determining which is the most secure for you depends on your needs.

If you value privacy above all, you should choose an app that features self-destructing messages and chats, like Signal or Telegram. But if you prefer connecting securely with a wide range of contacts without asking friends and family to download a new app, your best options are likely WhatsApp or iMessage.

Whichever app you choose, it’s wise to read the data usage policy beforehand to ensure it meets your privacy expectations. Taking extra precautions can further improve your security and anonymity. For example, you can use a masked mobile phone number and email address from IronVest, and no one, including the messaging app itself, can track chats back to you. 

Don’t just rely on in-app security — get IronVest

Messaging apps take protecting your data seriously and give you the ability to enjoy online communication exactly how you choose — whether you prefer to use self-destructing messages or simply keep your conversations out of the cloud.

Take the extra step to protect your data with IronVest by using masked contact information to hide your real email and phone number from third parties and cyber criminals. By upping your security with these measures and watching for potential threats, you’ll be better prepared to prevent scams like phishing, smishing, and identity theft on these messaging platforms.

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