How to communicate securely.

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A break down of some messaging services that claim to keep secrets.

There are a lot of messaging apps out there but it is hard to work out who you can really trust.

If you are not already aware, secrets are really hard to keep on the internet. There are ways that those confidential messages can find the light of day and there are so many apps claiming to keep your privacy.. well.. private.

Here is a background on some of the more popular messaging platforms out there.

Signal

  • Open Source
  • Recommended by Snowden
  • End to end encryption
  • Recently blocked from using domain fronting used to bypass geo-political bans so might not work in all countries (Russia, China etc.)
  • Run by vocal advocate for privacy with a cool name Moxie Marlinspike.

This is a good first choice as it is an open source project and big supporter of privacy.
There may be problems with use in some countries so take care when in doubt. If you are travelling, it may be a good idea to remove the app prior to crossing borders.

WhatsApp

  • Huge user base
  • End to end encryption
  • Also privacy advocates
  • Owned by Facebook

This might be one of the big secure messaging platforms that is accepted pretty much anywhere.

This implies that WhatsApp is playing nice with authorities so be sure to keep your conversations as neutral as possible.
No need getting detained on your travels for a message you sent ages ago that might be regarded as dissenting.

Facebook Messenger

  • Everyone has it
  • Feature rich
  • End to end encryption capable (but not by default)
  • It’s Facebook.

You can set on a conversation by conversation basis to have messages encrypted. Have a look at your settings. These conversations are treated as separate to your normal conversations with the same people which gives me confidence that they are really encrypting the conversations.

Of course being Facebook, some might baulk at the prospect of keeping secrets secret.

WeChat

  • Extremely versatile
  • Huge user adoption in Asia
  • Chinese owned/influenced developer
  • Banned by Aus Dept. of Defence.

Even though it has been rated as one of the worst real time communications apps for privacy and protection of data, WeChat is used extensively in Asian markets as a chat application, a social media network, a live streaming video platform and even a payment processor.

Use of WeChat is not recommended and should only be used as a last resort. There are fears that the WeChat app may include functions that could perform covert surveillance (although not proven).

ThreeMa

  • Extremely secure
  • Low adoption
  • A little cumbersomePaid app

Threema is one of the darlings of the privacy sector with security not only going to the end to end and ethereal messaging but down to adding contacts where you need to do in person verification of a contact’s phone.

The downside is that it is cumbersome to use and if you change phones you have to set it up from scratch. This is one of the very few paid apps giving a sense of knowing where ThreeMa is getting their money from.

Could be a viable option for very private/top secret or internal communications

My Recommendations:

  • WhatsApp and Signal are both well respected and make the top of the list.
  • ThreeMa coming in as a secondary internal channel needing to be as bulletproof as possible.
  • WeChat although tremendously useful has a big privacy and security cloud hanging over it. Not recommended for use on phones that need to stay secure.

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