How the Top Instant Messaging Services Use End-to-End Encryption


Personal data is more important than ever. Governments, companies, and cybercriminals crave for people’s personal data to serve their interests. Different platforms online have made it easy for personal data to be given away without our knowledge.

For this reason, it is important to have a good understanding of how the platforms you use online protect your privacy. One of the key factors to look out for when considering the protection measures of messaging applications is end-to-end encryption.

Recognizing the need to prioritize data privacy, more messaging applications have taken significant steps to implement end-to-end encryption.

What Is End-to-End Encryption?

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End-to-end encryption is a method of encrypting communications so that third parties are not able to access information shared between people messaging each other.

With end-to-end encryption, a secret code, rather than plain text, is used to conceal the content of the messages. This means that only those communicating on an end-to-end encrypted platform can read the messages being sent between themselves.

Let’s look at how three popular secure messaging services, Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram, use end-to-end encryption.


Signal messenger

Signal is considered to be one of the most secure messaging applications. All communication on the platform is encrypted end-to-end by default.

Signal does not back up messages on the cloud which reduces the risks of bad actors using alternative methods to acquire information. It also encrypts the metadata of messages so that the location and time of messaging activities are not tracked.

With an open-source encryption engine, the public benefit from higher levels of transparency on the technology behind their messaging activities. Users can look closer at the technical details to better understand the methods used to protect their privacy.

Open source platforms can make software much easier and secure to use in the long-run. Not only can people better understand how the software works but they can also try to set up their own version of the application, which could be more suitable for their unique security needs.

Signal uses a combination of OTR, referred to as Multi-Party Off-the-Record Messaging which makes it possible to end-to-end encrypt messages in group chats. The risks of data breaches can increase as the number of participants in a network rises. With end-to-end encrypted group chat, such risks are significantly reduced.


WhatsApp on IPhone

WhatsApp was one of the first popular messaging applications to enable end-to-end encryption. It uses end-to-end encryption for messages and calls.

WhatsApp uses the end-to-end encryption protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems, the team behind Signal messenger. This is a major plus for the application, considering how secure the encryption protocol of Signal is.

Related: Disappearing Messages on WhatsApp: Everything You Need to Know

WhatsApp’s use of its own proprietary deployment means that it may not be examined as frequently by as much of a wide range of security researchers as the fully open-source software of Signal.

Despite the encryption of messages, other ways could be used to find out more about messages being sent on WhatsApp as messages can be backed up on the cloud and metadata on the app is not encrypted. This makes it easier to know the time and locatioeen of messages. Additionally, reports surfaced of WhatsApp group chats indexed on Google search putting into question the security of its group chats.


Telegram Application

Telegram is loved for its use of encryption and its self-destructing messages. Sadly, there are several end-to-end encryption concerns with Telegram which may not seem so obvious to many users.

On Telegram, end-to-end encryption is not enabled by default. It is only offered when users switch to secret chats. For users who are not technically inclined, this presents security risks that they may not even be aware of.

Telegram can access messages stored on its servers which are backed up on its cloud. Some believe this presents additional vectors of attack that could lead to breaches of personal data in cases where cybercriminals attempt to steal messaging data from the application.

That being said, all secret chats in Telegram are device-specific which means that messages you send through secret chats can only be accessed from the device it was sent from.

While Telegram’s secret chats are end-to-end encrypted, group chats are not. This means that users may be able to use multiple devices for the same group chat. The chat logs could be downloaded on multiple devices by the users.

Telegram creates link previews on its remote servers from both normal and secret chats. When a user types a link for the first time in a secret chat, the application warns them that links will be sent to remote servers. This is considered a security weakness as sending links shared in a private chat to a remote server goes against the purpose of end-to-end encryption.

Telegram’s encryption protocol, MTProto is designed for access to a server API from applications on mobile. It is proprietary and only partly open source. This puts into question just how much control and understanding the public has over the encryption methods being used to protect their messages.

Thankfully, the messaging application has not faced serious claims about data breaches but it is concerning to know that it is possible for its operators to access your messages.

Despite the concerns, many may be reassured by the various legal hoops that would need to be jumped through in order to access messages. Telegram has made it clear in the past how difficult it is for people to access messages on its platform. Keys would need to be accessed from different jurisdictions which would frustrate many people.

Choosing the Most Secure Messaging Application

Although Signal may not be as popular as WhatsApp, its protocol has served as a significant contributing factor to WhatsApp’s success with end-to-end encryption. While its methods of end-to-end encryption are similar to WhatsApp, it is considered to be better than WhatsApp for end-to-end encryption. It distinguishes itself by taking extra steps to protect users.

Telegram’s decision to not prioritize end-to-end encryption has been attributed to its preference for convenience. Where it lacks in encryption, it makes up for, with its indirect methods of protecting users with cloud encryption and storage of keys in different legal jurisdictions.

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