Using an encrypted messaging app ensures only those with whom you are exchanging messages can actually decipher them, but not every messaging app contains this useful feature. If you want to keep your chats secret, you need a messaging app with powerful encryption software designed to prevent a range of third-parties from invading your privacy.
While there are quite a number of good encrypted apps out there, many have flaws associated with their operations, their owners, or both. For example, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are both encrypted and work quite well by themselves, but they are also owned by Facebook, which has a problematic historical relationship with privacy. Apple owns the highly regarded encrypted iMessage, but that app does not encrypt data like mobile numbers, metadata, or data stored in the cloud. While no encrypted messaging app is perfect, we round up the best ones available.
If you are considering encrypted messaging, the best way to achieve the utmost privacy is to also use a private VPN connection. Sure, using an encrypted messaging app is way better than nothing — which is to say, better than Skype, Windows Messenger, or AIM — but if you’re concerned anyone could listen in to your conversations or read your messages, then a VPN is an extra added layer of reassurance.
Signal Private Messenger (free)
Signal offers advanced privacy tech that millions of people already trust for everyday sending and receiving messages and HD voice and video calls. Powered by the open-source Signal Protocol, the app secures your conversations end to end. For Signal users, privacy is part of the app’s DNA, and it works the same way with every communication, even on slow networks. Signal is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit with development supported by users — no ads or trackers. You can use your existing phone number and address book to securely communicate. You can choose custom alerts for each contact, or completely disable sound. The app’s built-in image editing features let you sketch, crop, and flip outgoing photos.
You can use Threema anonymously to make end-to-end encrypted voice calls, send texts and voice messages, share videos, and even conduct polls. Using the open-source NaCl cryptography library, the app encrypts all communication. It generates very little server-based data, and group memberships and contact lists are stored directly on your device, not in the cloud. Messages are deleted after delivery, and local files from conversations are also encrypted. Encryption keys generated are stored on your device to prevent backdoor access or copies. You can reply with the app’s agree/disagree feature and verify the identity of a contact by scanning their personal QR code. Each Threema user also receives a random Threema ID — which means no phone number or email address is required. This allows you to use the app anonymously without revealing private information.
Telegram connects people via a unique distributed network of worldwide data centers. A syncing feature lets you send and access messages from all your devices at once with the ability to start a communication on your phone and finish it on your tablet or laptop. You can create group chats for up to 200,000 members, share large videos and documents, and even set up bots for specific tasks. Your entire chat history, groups, and media are securely stored in the Telegram cloud via a combination of 256-bit symmetric AES encryption, 2048-bit RSA encryption, and Diffie-Hellman secure key exchange. Telegram has powerful photo and video editing tools and an open sticker and GIF platform. A Secret Chats feature allows messages to self-destruct automatically from both participating devices.
Want to send secret texts? Dust offers you total control over your digital communications free from prying eyes, data mining, and hackers. For everyday texting and sharing photos with friends and family, or handing over private information like credit cards, or social security numbers — Dust will protect your data. It notifies you if a screenshot is taken of your messages and erases message history after 24 hours. Dust conversations are heavily encrypted and not accessible by anyone. You can even remove messages from your companion’s phone in real time.
Viber Messenger (free)
More than one billion people rely on Viber as their fast, secure messaging and calling app. With your data plan or Wi-Fi connection in place, you can make free international calls; send text messages, photos, videos, GIFs, and stickers; open a group chat; and more. It is fully synced between desktop and tablet for both audio and video calls. An adjunct service called Viber Out lets you connect to landlines as well. All communications are protected with end-to-end encryption with encryption keys only on user devices. Secret Chats let you destroy every message so that after your message is read, it’s automatically deleted from your recipient’s phone. Viber supports communities with unlimited members, complete with Chat extensions to favorite links, Viber stickers, GIFs and videos, Yelp, YouTube, Spotify, and more. Optional Viber Out subscriptions consist of a bundle of minutes to call a specific destination, which are purchased in-app and renew at various intervals.
Wickr Me (free)
Wickr Me is a free app that uses advanced end-to-end encryption. All messages, including voice calls, voice memos, texts, files, images, and videos are shared using a new key, and you can chat one-on-one or in groups of up to 10 users. You can expect plenty of privacy from Wickr—they don’t store any metadata from your conversations, and they never access your messages or contacts, either. Even better is the fact that you don’t need an email address or phone number to register with the service, and they won’t save the information in your smartphone’s address book, either.
If you want even more security in your privacy, Wickr lets you set expiration dates for any communications you have in the app, too.
Wire is a secure platform that teams and groups can use to communicate, share files, hold conference calls, or have private conversations. Like Wickr, you can choose to have private or group discussions, and you can collaborate through files, documents, and links, too. The app gives you a one-click conference call button for voice or video meetings, and you can invite others to private chat rooms, too. The app also offers ephemeral messaging and device fingerprinting too.
Wire is available on any device and operating system, so you’ll know your team can collaborate both in the office and on the road.