If you’re like most people, until recently you didn’t think twice about who might be looking before you sent a text message or placed a call with your mobile phone. Our mobile devices store tons of personal information—and it’s becoming clear that this information might not be as private as we thought.
Thanks to secure messaging apps, it’s easy to be sure that your pictures, text messages and calls aren’t being collected by some nasty group of hackers or a rogue government agency.
But how do you know which private messanging apps to trust?
Recommended by Edward Snowden, Signal makes our list thanks to its robust verification options and the ability to message anyone on your contact list—not just people who have the app. However, it’s important to note that secure messaging encryption only works with other Signal users.
You must assign your phone number to the app, so it’s not as anonymous as other options. But, the features and design make it a perfect replacement for your default messaging app.
You can enable notifications to alert you any time the unique identifier for your contacts change. This helps verify your contacts to be sure no one intercepts your messages. Signal also include simple passphrase verification using words generated on the screen should you need to secure voice calls.
Finally, as an open-source project, advanced users can audit the code and verify that features work as advertised. No worries about advertisements, tracking or corporate agendas. You can read their stances on both security and privacy here.
Wickr offers a simple, clean interface with features we couldn’t find in other apps. Messages self-destruct, making it easy to be sure that your personal information doesn’t linger on other devices. Metadata scrubbing gets rid of any potentially identifiable information in your embedded in messages and shared media. Depending on the media, this might include sensitive information, such as location, date or device model. Your screen name is anonymous—unlike many other secure messaging apps—making it easy to create burner IDs. Like any standard messaging app, you can share voice messages, videos and images.
Wickr focuses on transparency and privacy. Want the fine print? Wickr outlines their privacy details here.
Don’t let the colorful interface and endless sticker collection fool you, Zom is serious about security. As a fork of the ChatSecure project, Zom enables encryption by default allowing you to send private voice, text or images without worry of interception. It’s designed to offer a simple approach to security while offering advanced protections—such as decentralized Tor routing and Off-the-Record encryption support.
Zom looks simple and playful—making it great for families or convincing your parents to use a secure messenger. But don’t let that fool you, it also offers powerful security features. You can read more about the advanced features here.
Gliph made our list due to one feature we did not find in any other secure messaging app—secure payments. One part messaging app, one part online marketplace, Gliph allows you to pay for goods and services using Bitcoin in only a few taps.
The messaging interface works like any standard messenger with full support for video, text or voice messages. You can create groups for sending messages between family and friends. However, you’ll also find a collection of public channels across a range of topics if you’re just looking to chat with random people.
For a deeper look at how Gliph handles your personal data and privacy, consult their privacy page.
WhatsApp was once a favorite choice for those looking to avoid messaging and call charges. For this reason alone, there’s a good chance a few people on your contact lists already use it. However, the app also features end-to-end encryption by default. You can send images, voice message, secure texts and place calls without worry about interception or monitoring.
It uses the same security protocols as Signal. However, unlike Signal, you can’t message people who don’t have the app.
Recently, WhatsApp made the news at The Guardian due to a supposed backdoor—or security vulnerability—built into the app. Moxie Marlinspike, a prominent security developer at Open Whisper Systems, put this claim to rest on the Signal Blog.
What We Considered
We feel that securing your personal communications shouldn’t feel geeky or complicated. If it’s a pain to use, you won’t want to use it. But you’ll also want to know you can trust the company transmitting your data.
To address these concerns, we chose our picks based on:
- Security methods
- Ease of use
- Device support
- Transparency of the app developers
We feel this offered a balance of usability and dependability perfect for everyday use.
What About Secret Texting Apps?
If you're looking for a way to keep your messaging private and safe from nosey friends or housemates, many of the above picks work well for that as well.
- Signal allows you to set a password on the app.
- Wickr can auto-delete messages after a specified period.
Android users can also lock down any app on their phone using the CM Security Master locking app. When combined with any of the options above, this helps to improve privacy both on your device and while communicating.
Unfortunately, iOS doesn't offer similar options for getting secret messaging without jailbreaking. However, there are some basic app restrictions available through the General tab in Settings that might offer what you need.
Secure messaging apps are only useful if the people you know also use them. For this reason, our Editor's Pick for Best Secure Messaging App in 2017 goes to Signal.
It’s simple to use, offers everything you need in a private text messaging app and still lets you send unsecure messages to the rest of your contacts.
Better still, it’s an open source project, so there’s always people improving features and checking to be sure the app remains secure.
Is the Information on Your Phone Safe?
Join our free 5-day mini course to find out! We’ll highlight common mobile security mistakes and share our simple techniques for keeping your phone safe and secure.
If you use one of these apps, be sure to share this post with your family and friends so they can encrypt their calls and messages too!
P.S. While these apps are great for securing your messaging and calling, they do nothing for the rest of the data transmitted by your phone—such as when you browse the web or play online games. If you’re looking for additional ways to secure your phone, check out the Virtual Private Network (VPN) section of our guide on Finding Free Wi-Fi!