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What Is Encrypted Text Messaging?
July 24, 2019
Privacy and security are major concerns for consumers these days, and it’s smart to know the best ways to keep your data confidential and private. But what about text messages? Are they as secure as we assume they are?
There are simple steps you can take to make your messages more secure, and it won’t cost you a lot of time or money. Here’s what you should know about encrypted text messages and how you can start sending them today. Even those with limited tech experience can get protection and keep their data safe from others.
Why use encrypted messaging?
You may assume that encrypted texts are for other people, like spies or those with something criminal to hide. The truth is that our data is something we own, and we have a valid reason to want to protect it from getting into the wrong hands. Many people would love to do bad things with your information.
Here are some examples:
- Sending a text about an upcoming vacation could alert a criminal to a good time to break into your home
- Personal messages as part of a romantic relationship could be used for blackmail or in court proceedings during a divorce or separation
- Information about your children could be used to harm or endanger them
- Data found in texts is often used as part of email, phone, or mail phishing schemes
- Business information can be used by competitors to develop similar products or interrupt patent filings
In addition to these obvious demonstrations of criminal and privacy violation, there are legal threats as well. Many apps, social media networks, and mobile devices may use the data communicated in your texts to market to you or try to sell you offers. Keeping your data encrypted ensures it’s not used in any manner you deem inappropriate. Some people are also worried about government spying programs or foreign hacking.
Instead of asking, “why should I encrypt my text messages?” you should be asking, “why shouldn’t I?” It’s safe, easy, and takes very little time with the tech available today.
The basics of encrypted text messaging
Have you heard the term “end-to-end encryption?” It may sound complicated, but it’s simple to explain. Also called E2EE, this is a way of communicating so that only the sender and the receiver of the information can read the messages or data. If you send a text to your mom, only you and your mom can read it. Your phone provider, app provider, or your phone manufacturer can’t see what you wrote. To them, it would be gibberish as a result of the encryption tech being used.
Apps that promise to offer encrypted texts or messages are assumed to use some form of end-to-end encryption technology. Only you and the person communicating have the keys to unlock your texts. This may be used for emails, chat networks, and message boards, too. It’s a common term to describe secure communication channels across the industry.
How to use an encrypted messaging app
The beauty of using an app or tool that promises encryption is that it’s relatively seamless from the user’s perspective. In fact, you may already be using one of these apps and not even realize it. Some of the apps that offer this feature include:
1. Apple Messages
This iOS app comes standard for the iPhone, iWatch, and other Apple products. Assuming you don’t use a third-party messaging tool, your communications will automatically be encrypted. Even communications saved to iCloud through Apple have this same protection.
Apple has been in the news quite frequently for the legal conflicts that have come from their encrypted technology. Because even Apple can’t decrypt the messages sent through their messaging platform, the authorities of government agencies and legal teams have been unsuccessful in getting them to unlock devices or decrypt messages. Yes, their security is so good that even they can’t crack it.
One important thing to note about Apple’s encryption is that it only works as long as the messages are being sent between two users on the Apple messaging platform. If a text is sent from an Android device to an iPhone, or vice-versa, the encryption security is lost.
One of the most popular messaging services worldwide, WhatsApp is also one of the most secure. It’s free and available for iOS, Android, Windows, and select other device platforms. End-to-end encryption protects data sent through the app, and users can verify the “key” of the user sending or receiving to ensure people are who they say they are and the messages are being sent securely.
Not only can you send text messages, but audio and video calls can be transmitted as well. These benefit from the same data encryption, so they are indeed secure. While it’s incredibly useful, this app’s future is at risk. It was purchased by Facebook in 2014 and many question if it will continue to be an ad-free platform not influenced by marketing tactics. It’s also banned in several countries.
If you’re the owner of a Samsung phone, there’s good news for the privacy of your texts. Knox enables users to send messages to one another with the protection of a physical chip inside the phone. This chip keeps calls and texts from identifying or pulling in data from the user information and records on the phone itself. The encryption is solid. Users must send and receive with other Knox platform users to get the security, however. It’s not compatible with outside tools.
For Android users who don’t have a Samsung phone, the Signal app is a favorite. This tool from OpenWhisper encrypts calls and SMS messages automatically for users of Android, iOS, and even desktop devices. There’s little set up involved, but it’s one of the most secure ways to talk to your friends, family, and coworkers.
You can use it to send more than texts, too. It can capture and securely transmit voice notes, images, and videos. Group chat is a significant perk of this platform and everything benefits from end-to-end encryption.
Another top encrypted text messenger app, Wickr lets users send content-expiring messages, photos, and file attachments without the worry of being intercepted or stolen. It’s available for iOS, Mac, Android, and Windows. Linux users can enjoy it, too.
The best part of the app is that you can determine an exact expiration time for your messages. When the timer is up, these messages can no longer be accessed. Each message also gets its own unique encryption key, which is accessible only to the users in the conversation. The key is deleted as soon as the message is decrypted and the messages disappear once they expire.
Easy and secure for anyone to use
If you’ve never given text messaging security a second thought before, maybe you will now. It’s simple and seamless with the apps we mentioned, and many of the most reliable tools are also free. You don’t need deep tech knowledge to benefit from secure messages, and it’s likely that you’re already sending encrypted texts with your mobile device.
This isn’t only an issue for those in high-security jobs or those partaking in nefarious activities, either. There are numerous reasons to switch to encrypted texts, whether you want to protect yourself against hackers or you’re mindful of how your data is used for marketing or political purposes. Your messages are your data. You own them and you should be able to keep them safe and within your possession.
Why risk your information if you don’t have to? Secure options are available on all tech platforms so you can enjoy them right away.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.