So many people prefer to text instead of talk these days, so it’s important to consider how secure these services are. You wouldn't want hackers or those who would do you harm to know where you were going to be, or when your home will be empty.
By the same token it's vital that financial information or account details you might share with a partner over a text doesn't end up in the wrong hands. To guard against this its best to use a secure messaging app, and here are five of the best.
Platform: iOS, Android, and web
There’s no point in trying to reinvent the wheel. The majority of people you know are probably already on WhatsApp, which is one of the first major requirements of a messaging service.
In recent years, WhatsApp has also added end-to-end encryption, which means only yourself and the recipient of your message can read it, due to special software keys that unlock the encryption.
WhatsApp itself can’t even access the content of your missives, so there’s no chance of Facebook - its parent company – harvesting your thoughts and then selling them to ad companies.
WhatsApp is free and available for iOS, Android, or via a browser on Windows, macOS, Linux, or Chromebooks.
Platform: iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, and Linux
If you want to keep away from the corporate giant that is WhatsApp, then Signal is a perfect alternative. This open-source service offers the same end-to-end encryption, which provides the ability to send messages, group chat, and make both free voice and video calls, all in a highly secure manner.
Because it's open-source, the code is public, and thus can be checked to ensure that no sneaky loopholes are inserted.
Group chat is not only encrypted, but Signal has no way of knowing who makes up the membership of the group, and the service has a zero-knowledge policy so none of your data is ever seen by the company.
For increased security you can even set messages to automatically delete after a specified period of time.
Signal has won praise from many security professionals, with the highest profile advocate being Edward Snowden.
Signal is available for free on iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Platform: iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, and Linux
Another popular app is Viber. This service boasts over 900 million users world-wide and is owned by the Japanese giants Rakuten.
The purple liveried app has all the features you’d expect of a modern communication platform, with text, GIF, picture, voice, and video messaging all present and wrapped in end-to-end encryption.
There’s a sense of fun with Viber, thanks to its wide selection of cartoon stickers, and you can also record short video recordings to share with friends.
The app never has access to your data or the content of your conversations, and only holds information about messages long enough to deliver them, after which they are promptly deleted from the Viber servers.
Again, it’s a free service which is available on iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Platforms: iOS, Android, Web, macOS, Windows, and Linux
Telegram is a solid messaging service that allows you to send various documents, messages, and photos to other users. Your conversations are synced across all of your devices, and you can store various items on the cloud servers too.
The security conscious among you will know that for syncing to work it needs Telegram to have a level of access to your content. This is the classic battle of security and convenience.
In the standard mode Telegram uses 256-bit AES encryption between your device and the Telegram servers, but this does create the potential for your information to be requested by government agencies as Telegram will have the decryption keys.
Thankfully, there is an additional feature called Secret Chats that employs device to device, or end-to-end, encryption so that Telegram never has access to the contents of your conversation. These messages can be set to self-delete after a specified time, and Secret Chats leave no trace of themselves on the Telegram servers once they expire.
Versions are available for iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Platforms: iOS and Android
Finally, there's Dust, which has a rather unique feature in that it allows you not only to delete one of your messages off of your phone, but also on the recipient device. That’s very handy if you accidentally send the wrong person a sensitive piece of information.
Employing end-to-end encryption, Dust is safe way to exchange text messages with friends and family, knowing that not even the company itself can read them.
Messages can be set to erase themselves once read, or after a pre-determined time period. There’s also another interesting idea in that names aren’t displayed in one-to-one chats, so anyone hoping to take a screenshot with incriminating evidence won’t be able to prove the sender was you. Dust also notifies you if it detects the recipient taking a screenshot.
There’s no voice or video chat at the moment, but for the written word Dust is a fine performer.
The app is free and available now for iOS and Android devices.
Of course, another way to protect yourself from spying eyes is to use a VPN. See our How to use a VPN to find out more about these useful services.