Facebook is in the news again, and there’s no surprise that their data management practices are the cause. WhatsApp, Facebook’s “end-to-end encrypted messaging” application is undergoing renovations to build a backdoor allowing message contents to be scanned before messages are sent. If your message is flagged, your supposedly encrypted message will be copied and sent back to Facebook’s servers for further analysis.
End-to-end encryption is a process where the user generates a set of keys, one public and one private, allowing messages to be received and decoded. Think of the public key as your bank account number - you give that out to people if you want to receive money. Similarly, in the context of encrypted messaging, you give your public key to people so they can use it to message you. It’s like your contact address people use to message you. Using this contact address, or public key, the person messaging you is able to encrypt the message data being sent, which can only be decrypted using the associated private key. Any onlookers trying to read the messages would see a scrambled mess, unless they too had access to the private key to decrypt the conversation.
We know Facebook’s ability to leverage their data sets is what drives their revenue stream, and we know those data sets can be used for remarkable (read:disturbing) things…like swinging a US Election. If Facebook are planning to start snooping through what they claim are encrypted messages, what data will they source and how will it be used? Edward Snowden leaked documents indicating that the NSA was spying on communication networks used by citizens, and since then private messaging applications have soared in popularity.
WhatsApp is in a powerful position: seen as a high profile, supposedly encrypted messaging service, it can easily lure people into being more forthcoming under the assumption their message data is not being viewed, shared or used to manipulate them. So what are some better, more secure alternatives?
Here are 5 private messaging apps doing a better job than WhatsApp:
Signal Messenger (signal.org)
Signal jumped into the limelight thanks to a glowing recommendation from Edward Snowden, “use anything by Open Whisper Systems.” Signal has no ads, no affiliate marketers, no tracking scripts, delivering a fast, simple and secure messaging experience.
Signal is highly regarded by industry professionals as an effective and scalable encryption tool. Signal itself claim they “can’t read your messages or see your calls, and no one else can either.” If you don’t believe them, that’s okay. Signal Messenger is open source, so you can audit the code yourself on their GitHub.
Wickr Me (wickr.com)
Wickr Me entered the mainstream when media reported the encrypted messaging application was used by Australian politicians to conceal communications. Wickr Me is more than just an encrypted messaging application with a message burn feature - the team have developed additional services to meet the needs of different markets, with Wickr Enterprise and Wickr Pro using the same military grade encryption used to secure Wickr Me.
Wickr Enterprise solution integrates seamlessly into IT infrastructure and features secure API functionality for organizational compliance. Wickr Pro offers the ability to set up a convenient network dashboard to manage data exchange across your private Wickr network as well as cross-network communications.
Telegram Messenger (telegram.org)
Telegram was infamously used by ISIS. Need I say more? ISIS using Telegram should not be the reason you use Telegram. Telegram utilizes data centers around the globe to operate with a distributed network infrastructure, making it more difficult to shut down compared to a centralized service.
Telegram is cloud-based and highly powerful, allowing group channels with tens of thousands of users — a niche that has served cryptocurrency enterprises quite well. Telegram has become a staple communication channel for most cryptocurrency projects.
Loki Messenger (loki.network)
Loki Messenger is an open source and decentralized encrypted messaging service using blockchain technology to secure user data. The decentralized nature of blockchain technology allows the Loki Project to create a privacy suite enabling users to interact securely with the internet, encompassing encrypted messaging services, forums, online marketplaces and social media platforms. The Loki Foundation achieved registered charity status, making the Loki Foundation the first privacy oriented not-for-profit organization in Australia.
Functional, though still in early development, Loki Messenger piggybacks off a network of incentivized and decentralized nodes rather than using centrally managed data centers, adding another level of security to the application. In addition to Loki Messenger, the Loki Project is simultaneously developing a low latency onion routing protocol designed to be a hybrid between TOR and I2P which they’re calling Lokinet, or LLARP, Low Latency Anonymous Routing Protocol. Lokinet will enable user privacy across a myriad of uses of the internet, in more ways than just encrypted messaging.
DMme, as in Direct Message Me, is another blockchain based encrypted messaging service. DMme has generated substantial hype within the online cryptocurrency community. Unlike Telegram and Signal, blockchain based encrypted messaging services do not require a phone number to set up an account.
DMme uses military grade encryption so your message data stays yours. In the last week the DMme Team have announced a rebrand and new direction, moving away from their incentivized node structure. The team also announced a move to the Ethereum blockchain and a new method of incentivizing network participants by rewarding DMme stakeholders. It will be very interesting to see how the team manage an encrypted messaging application on a public blockchain.
There you have it. It was difficult whittling the list down to just 5 encrypted messaging services, because to be frank, there are a lot more than 5 that are doing a better job at securing data than WhatsApp. I hope you found this guide helpful. If you have any suggestions for future content, please comment below. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter at @ContrastCrypto.
Stay secure, stay private.