There are a lot of news reports about computer and mobile phone hacks every year, so the demand for secure private conversations continues to grow.
Unfortunately, any chat that is stored on a server anywhere on the Internet, encrypted or unencrypted, can be hacked. Thus, end-to-end encryption is the gold standard for chat privacy.
In this article, you will discover how end-to-end encryption works and discover six of the best chat apps that offer it.
What is end-to-end encryption?
Their key (pun intended) to properly encrypted digital messages is to create both public and private keys.
A “key” is a special code that can unlock encrypted communications. The end-to-end encryption script works like this:
- The recipient and sender application has private and public keys. The user’s private key is stored securely on the user’s device. The public key is stored on the server that transmits messages.
- When a sender sends a message to a recipient, the message can only be opened by the recipient using a private key stored only on his device and a public key known only to the device and the server.
- When a recipient receives a message, the application uses the public key and private key to open the message and decrypt it.
- This process continues back and forth as the sender and receiver exchange messages.
Since encryption happens at one end and only decrypts at the other, this is called end-to-end encryption.
Messages in this scenario are never stored unencrypted on any servers on the Internet.
A few years ago there were only a few applications that offered end-to-end encryption of chat, but today most of the mainstream chat platforms offer either fully encrypted communications or a way to “enable” end-to-end encryption if needed.
When it comes to private conversations, teens have made Whatsapp a household name. With this reputation, Whatsapp became one of the first messaging platforms to include end-to-end encryption in every message sent through the service.
Today, Whatsapp boasts over 900 million users who send messages over the Internet in the most confidential way. It is available for all major phones in the mobile market, as well as Windows and macOS.
Encryption with WhatsApp happens between one mobile device and another. Messages are stored only on Whatsapp servers (in encrypted format) until they are delivered to the recipient’s phone. Messages are stored for a long time only on your phone, and not on any servers.
If you are using the Whatsapp desktop app it still requires Whatsapp to be installed on your phone, but your computer will sync with your phone to send and receive messages.
Signal was once an app that Edward Snowden says he used every day, as it is one of the safest and most reliable ways to communicate with anyone who also uses the app.
Signal was developed by the non-profit organization Open Whisper Systems. This application is open source, which means you can be sure that there is no hidden code to spy on your messages.
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 encrypted when fully transferred. Messages are not stored anywhere on the network.
You can instantly delete messages by simply pressing and holding that message. Just remember that messages also exist on the other user’s phone, so they will need to be deleted on their side to completely destroy the conversation once it ends.
Like Whatsapp, there is a desktop version of Signal available, but it must 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 doesn’t require a phone number to work.
This means that when you install the desktop version, the end device becomes your computer and not your phone.
Like Signal, Wire is an open source application, so you can be sure there are no security holes or malicious code in it. The fact that you don’t need to register with a phone number (email only) provides even more privacy than the other apps listed here.
Using a free anonymous email account allows you to send truly anonymous messages.
Keep in mind, however, that anonymity and end-to-end encryption are inexpensive. Wire maintains metadata related to messages, including the contacts you have chatted with and related chat information.
If you are truly concerned about security, you will be shocked to know that this is not one of the most popular private messaging apps.
In addition to the same end-to-end encryption that other apps offer, Wickr goes even further and gives you complete 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 sending messages. These buttons allow:
- Set the time after which the message will be automatically deleted from the recipient’s device.
- Submit a photo.
- Record and send a voice message.
- Attach files.
All transmissions, regardless of type, are fully encrypted on your device and only decrypted on the recipient’s device.
By using Wickr, you can be sure that not only will hackers not be able to access your messages on any servers or during transmission, but they will also be thwarted when they try to access your messages by hacking into your recipient’s device. P>
Wickr is available on multiple platforms and mobile devices.
You might not expect to see Skype in your list of privacy messaging apps. However, Microsoft decided to add end-to-end encryption to Skype after seeing how important privacy is to the users of these applications.
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 selecting New Private Conversation.
After starting a new chat, all messages sent back and forth are encrypted on your device and decrypted on the recipient’s device.
Be aware that encrypted conversation is only active from one specific device to another. If you switch from desktop to phone, you will need to start a new private conversation and the recipient will need to accept your new invitation.
Another messaging app that you might not expect to see in the list of end-to-end encrypted apps is Facebook Messenger. But even Facebook has gotten into the encryption game by adding this important privacy and security feature to its flagship messaging service.
To send a secret message on iOS:
- Press Home and then the edit icon to start a new message.
- Click on “Secret” in the upper right corner.
- Select the recipient of the message.
- Tap the timer icon in the text box if you want the message to disappear after a specified time.
To send a secret message on Android:
- Tap the Home tab, then start a new Messenger conversation with the recipient.
- Tap the information icon in the upper right corner.
- Tap Go to Secret Conversation.
- Tap the timer icon to clear the message after a specified amount of time.
You cannot send secret messages using Facebook Messenger on the Internet. It is only available for iOS or Android.
By enabling end-to-end encryption, you can be sure that no one can intercept your conversation, and by destroying messages after a specified time, nothing will be left on your device that a hacker could read.
The only catch is that when the recipient sends you a message, they must remember to set a timer so that both ends of the conversation are destroyed after the conversation ends.
Use of encrypted chat apps
Is it paranoid to use private chat apps with end-to-end encryption?
In today’s world, where hacking is widespread and where foreign countries are even interested in spying on ordinary citizens, you can never be too careful.
Use one of the above messaging apps and secure your conversations. When it comes to your personal life, you are never completely safe.