Encrypted messaging app services are rapidly becoming people's chosen mode of communication. More and more people are using messaging apps for socialising and even work related communications.
There are hundreds of encrypted messaging app tools out there but finding a genuinely secure one can be a challenge.
However, as awareness of online surveillance continues to rise, many people are starting to search for secure messaging apps which will encrypt their correspondence, enable them to make secure voice and video calls, and make it secure and unreadable to outsiders.
That's why in this guide we've whittled it down to just five options for you helping you to choose the best one for your needs.
So, if you are looking for the best ones yourself, here are our five tested recommendations.
Top 5 Secure Messaging Apps
Below are our top 5 picks of the best encrypted messaging apps that will help you chat more privately.
It's not an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of private messaging app options available.
But these are our pick of the best encrypted messaging apps on the market today based on features, our extensive testing and industry recommendations:
Signal is a free, open-source, heavily encrypted messaging service that was created by San Francisco-headquartered Open Whisper Systems.
Signal is a very secure app that uses its own ‘Signal protocol'. This works for Android and iOS users alike as well as the major desktop operating systems and is so highly regarded that it has been adopted by a number of rival services too.
It offers a complete messaging service too. On Signal private messenger you can send text messages, encrypted voice calls, group messages, media, and attachments. There are some more playful features too such as custom wallpapers and stickers you can enjoy too.
With the recent surge in remote working, Signal has also added a group voice and video calls service too that can be accessed by up to 40 people.
But security is its main focus which is why it includes the option for self-destructing messages after a user-defined period of time, if you so wish. Signal also does not hold the encryption keys so even they cannot see your private messages.
It is among the most secure and most popular messaging apps today. Its encrytion is foolproof, the self-destructing messages exceptional, and its not for profit ownership model means that there are no ads or other annoyances to bother you ether.
Signal private messenger used by major politicians to journalists and activists and even Edward Snowden supports its use. It is robust, easy to use, and best of all absolutely free.
Telegram is one of the best-known secure messaging apps around the world, with millions of users in nearly all countries. It is not perfect by any means but it does still trump most other chat apps.
It was founded by Pavel Durov, a Russian whose relationship with the Putin regime is a topic of some controversy online.
Telegram's default settings are not considered to be 100% secure either and they require your phone number.
Unless you change the settings manually to use the ‘secret chats' feature, Telegram can still see your messages. It also does not enable end-to-end encryption by default either which is far from ideal.
Telegram uses its own custom MTProto encryption protocol which is not open source and therefore difficult to verify. But while some question its security, it should be noted that the FBI doesn't seem to have managed to find a way in yet.
But the secret chatting feature is good and will make your encrypted messages only known to you and the person you are chatting with, with no one else seeing your correspondence. If a private chat app is what you are after, Telegram is a definite contender.
Telegram supports group chats of up to 200,000 members which is great for building a community around a specific topic and is one of the reason's for this apps broad popularity.
The Telegram app is available on mobile devices (Android, iOS) along with a number of other devices types and is also free to use.
At number three on our list is ChatSecure, which is another popular app, although nowhere near to the same extent as Signal and Telegram when it comes to popularity.
It is also free, as well as open-source which is excellent news. Less good is that it cannot be used on Android. iOS is the only mobile app available. There used to be an Android app, but this is no longer available.
ChatSecure offers end to end encryption and it only uses well-known open source cryptographic libraries to keep your conversations private.
Its dedication to security is evident when you consider that one of its creators is the same person in charge of running the site Open Watch – Chris Ballinger.
As an open source tool, anyone can inspect its code and confirm that it is as secure as it claims. Of course, you must always remember to establish a safe/private connection before chatting manually, so do keep that in mind.
ChatSecure is a simple basic tool which lacks many of the bells and whistles of other encrypted apps on this list. But what it does do as well as anyone, and arguably better, is security.
In contrast to the previous app on this list, Silence is on Android but iOS is not supported.
But, like ChatSecure it is a private messenger service that has earned a place on this list thanks to its simplicity, robust privacy features, and powerful end-to-end encryption.
To be accurate, Silence is a secure texting app. Once you set it up, it does not even require an internet connection to work, as this app sends encrypted SMS messages instead.
Not needing an internet connection is pretty unique among other encrypted messaging apps as far as we are aware.
But this SMS messaging app uses Signal's Axolotl end-to-end encryption protocol to deliver encrypted texting and keep them uber-secure.
Because it sends SMS text messages, it also means that the app has no connection to any external server, and you can get directly connected with the person you wish to communicate with.
Of course, the SMS is processed through the use of an external server, but they do not store the information, and the data is not visible to anyone apart from the sender and the receiver.
Silence isn't a chat app in the real sense, but it does allow secure communication through SMS which is an excellent feature especially in countries where the internet and chat apps can be blocked at a moments notice.
Last but by no means least, we have Viber, which is currently miles above what it used to be like when it first came out. Back then, it was a poor man's WhatsApp and did not even offer end-to-end encryption.
However, it remained semi-popular, which allowed it to keep improving and rolling out new versions. One of them brought total end-to-end encryption and made Viber one of the more secure messaging apps today.
It is now owned by Japanese tech behemoth Rakuten which is one of the reasons why it now has a lot of the features of services like Telegram to try and attract more users.
This includes Secret Chats and Hidden chats and a useful feature that colour codes how secure your different chats are.
It allows text, voice, and group messaging and is free to message other Viber users. You can message on-users too but you have to pay for this.
Sadly like many apps is linked to your phone number.
Viber has made real progress in the past few years and it is one of the best and most secure messaging apps today.
What to look for in a secure messaging app
There are a number of key features that you should be looking for in encrypted messaging apps.
Most secure chat apps will provide some of the features. The best will offer them all:
End to end encryption using a secure encryption protocol is a core feature.
This will ensure your private chat messages, voice messages, and video calls are encrypted at every point between your device and that of your recipient.
Default end to end encryption
Some private messaging apps will offer end-to-end encryption but not enable it by default. But the best secure messaging app will always encrypt everything and not need you to tell it to.
Open source coding
This not only guarantees transparency but means that any vulnerabilities should be picked up sooner rather than later.
Minimal data collection
All instant messaging apps are likely to collect user data. Non should store messages.
But a highly secure messaging app will not only avoid storing private messages but it will collect a minimal amount of data full stop.
Most apps collect your phone number but there are some who are moving away from this.
Which is the most secure chat app?
The ‘most secure' app is a difficult question to answer, as all of the mentioned apps – as well as many others that did not make it onto this list offer some strong security features including robust end-to-end encryption.
If we are completely honest, no app is 100% perfect but it is only secure messaging apps that come close.
If we had to pick the one that gets closest, Signal would be our top recommendation.
Telegram has its merits provided you set it up properly and it does boast some powerful features that Signal lacks. But Edward Snowden decided to support Signal, and considering his experience and past – his advice is worth listening to.
Signal lets you use group chats, it lets you delete specific messages, and it even offers ‘Disappearing messages' feature which will delete your messages after some time automatically. You can also verify your session and confirm that no third parties are spying on you.
These are all powerful features which is why Signal is our top recommendation.
Which messaging apps have desktop platforms?
When it comes to the five apps listed above, you can use some of them on desktop platforms, in addition to having their usual mobile app.
Signal is one of them with a great desktop app that mirrors the mobile app and is both user-friendly, secure and has top security features. Telegram does too as does Viber. You can also use both of these services on Windows and Mac alike.
Typically, desktop versions are just as easy to use, you can synchronize them with your phone app, and make communication not only secure but also easier and faster. They are great if you use your secure instant messaging app while working.
It's worth noting that it's often the case that not all features are available on the desktop clients that are available in their mobile counterparts. For example, Telegram's secret conversations feature isn't possible and many don't allow voice calling through desktop clients.
But Signal does still offer disappearing messages, group chats, and robust end-to-end encrytion on all its desktop apps making it top of the best encrypted messaging apps for desktop list.
What is a good app for sharing files securely?
When it comes to file sharing, most people tend to use cloud solutions, such as Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox, and the like.
However, if you wish to do file sharing via the messaging app of your choice, that is also possible with most of the apps on this list.
Signal is more than just a messaging app and is our pick for this function as well. It will let you send images, voicemail, video messages, and even text files, all of which will be just as secure as regular messaging.
Things might be more complicated when it comes to Silence, as it acts as an SMS service, but all the rest on this list will also let you do it with ease.
Is Signal messenger app secure? Is it more secure than WhatsApp?
Of course, wherever multiple apps are doing the same thing, there is bound to be a rivalry.
As our top recommendation, Signal should also be put up against the elephant in the room in the form of the popular instant messenger service that is missing from this list; WhatsApp.
WhatsApp boasts more than 2 billion active users and is the top instant messaging app in all but 25 out of 195 countries around the world.
Signal, in contrast, manages a lesser but still respectable 40 million users. But this figure is growing all the time.
What makes Signal different is that it is the app of choice of users who really care about their online privacy and security. No-one uses WhatsApp just for its encryption, not least because it is owned by Facebook and it shares user data with them.
Facebook has had more than a few privacy-related incidents and profits massively from user data. For those that care, people have lost trust in it and that goes for WhatsApp and its stablemate, Facebook Messenger too.
Sure, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are end-to-end encrypted also allow you to send secure messages, delete them whenever you wish, and it also has a web version.
But, it stores and shares too much, lacks Signal's secure features and backs up data insecurely.
True, it's more likely you'll find users with Whatsapp but convincing your circle of friends to move to Signal will increase the privacy and security of your messages.
What is end-to-end encryption in Facebook and WhatsApp?
As you probably know, encryption is one of the most effective ways to ensure your data security and this is the case with the security of your chats and messaging.
With end-to-end encryption, data is supposed to be secure the entire time, and only the sender and the recipient should be able to see what is sent.
Reading encrypted files requires access to a secret authentication key, or password, which allows you to decrypt messages. Of course, messaging apps do it all automatically, and you send and receive text or files without having to decode them manually.
Simply put, it is a system of communication where only those who communicate can read the messages, and no one can spy on eavesdrop on such a conversation.
This includes telecom providers, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and even the company that owns and operates the messaging service.
Facebook and WhatsApp use this feature, and a lot of people see no issue with using these services, But, as mentioned, many believe that Facebook is not trustworthy. While this may be true, the technology doesn't lie, and WhatsApp should be completely safe and secure.
But beware the backups because this is WhatsApp's achilles heel and can end up with all of your user data stored insecurely where anyone can access it.
Other ways to keep your message secure and private
While choosing the most secure messenges app is important, there are other ways that you can help to keep your messages secure and private. Some key tips include:
Be careful using public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is pretty much omni-present these days and while it can be very convenient it can also pose security risks even for a secure messenger app.
Public Wi-Fi networks tend to be used by many people and as a result security is minimal to help people access them quickly. These two factors can make them a prime targets for hackers.
Its very simple for hackers to compromise public networks or spoof them and trick you in to connecting to them. Then they can access your device and all of your data at their leisure.
Don't send any private or sensitive messages when using public Wi-Fi networks and always try to connect to a VPN when using one too.
Don't send private information to strangers on secure messaging apps
It is not impossible for strangers to approach you on secure messaging app services and even encrypted messenger apps.
If this happens, tread carefully. Avoid giving out personal details, passwords, credit card information, or any other sensitive information.
You wouldn't tell this sort of stuff to a stranger in the street and you shouldn't online either. Fraudsters can be anywhere on the internet.
Don't click links from strangers
Another rule that applies on encrypted messaging apps every bit as much as elsewhere online is not to click on links you don't recognise.
If a link has been shared on your encrypted messaging app from someone you don't know or even if it looks dodgy but comes from someone you do know, never click it.
This can lead you to fake sites which will steal data, download malware onto your device and much more. It's simply not worth the risk.
Never click on links that you receive through instant messaging from people you do not know and trust and have never met in real life to avoid falling victim to a phishing scam.
Use security software with your secure messaging app
Always be sure to have anti-virus and anti-malware software installed on your device to protect you from the risks posed by malware and other tools in the hackers arsenal.
Use a VPN with your secure messaging app
All of the encrypted messaging apps recommended in this guide use end-to-end encryption. But all apps have vulnerabilities and none will honest claim that they guarantee your security 100%.
That's why it is always a good idea to use a VPN no matter which instant messaging service you are using.
Premium VPNs such as ExpressVPN will generally operate on bigger budgets than instant messaging apps (apart from those owned by Facebook of course!). This means that they are more likely to be in a position to patch their apps and get things secure faster.
By using a VPN as well as a secure messaging app, you are doubling up on your encryption and significantly boosting the security of your messages.
All you have to do is sign up for a VPN like ExpressVPN, which costs no more than a few dollars a month. Download their app and connect to a server and all of your internet data including your instant messages are secure.
Choosing the most secure messaging app these days is difficult because there is so much choice. Often what messaging app we used is dictated by what our social circle or business contacts use.
Keeping your chat history private has gained in popularity in recent years, which means apps like Telegram and Signal are becoming more widespread.
While they're not quite there yet, there is a slow movement to move away from the traditional apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger with a strong push for apps that don't require your phone number.
All of the above five options will increase the security and privacy of your conversations. Our pick from the best encrypted messaging apps is Signal. Other messaging apps cannot compete.
This is the best encrypted messaging app on the market. It is end-to-end encrypted, offers group chats, voice calls, and comprehensive messaging services including disappearing messages.
All of the apps on our list offer end-to-end encrypted chat, most also offer group chats, voice messages and more. But Signal is the most secure messaging apps around and that is our overall recommendation.
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Other illustrations © Naveed Hussain, Flat Art & Olgaolgasok | Dreamstime.com