Secure Messaging Apps for Encrypted Chat

Privacy concerns are on the rise and secure messaging tools offer the public a much-needed firewall. We've compiled the top secure messaging apps available, which allow secure messaging, anonymous encrypted chat, file transmission & more.

Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of the modern world, but its slow degradation can be tough to notice. Some have fallen back on the "If I'm doing nothing wrong, it doesn't matter" approach, but that antiquated rhetoric is quickly fading. If people don't take active measures to protect their communication, we all know that corporations and governments will gladly vacuum our data and utilize it for their causes. Once people come to that realization, their logical next question "How can we actually have a secure chat app"? While it will be nice to live in a time where the public is familiar with concepts like "key based authentication" and "cipher suites", that's currently a large ask. Luckily a more obtainable goal is already in users' hands - Simply downloading a secure messaging app.

Secure Chat Goals & Requirements

While defining specific security goals is a technical topic, we'll start by giving you the factors we're looking for, then we'll give you our top picks, follow with some technical details, then finish up by giving some operational tips and ways to support the cause. It's also important to note that outside of the design elements, all our grading factors are based on EFF's "Secure Messaging Scorecard". For those who don't already know, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is a talented team of tech evangelists that have been defending your rights behind the scene for years. While no one group should ever be considered "definitive", the EFF is certainly the closest thing to it in matters of tech and privacy. With that in mind, the primary technical aspects we're looking for are strong end-to-end encryption, correspondent verification, source design and documentation, recent auditing, and forward secrecy. Secondary factors are developer history, functional add-ons, and usability. Offering the public encrypted chat is an important step in protecting our collective privacy and these are the apps we believe will help us start fighting back!

Top 8 Secure Messaging Apps

All of these offerings give users massively improved security, feature end to end encryption, and are engineered brilliantly, but don't make this a "one-click decision". We'll give you a little detail on each private messaging app, then try to narrow down the best target audience for each. Since security is an ever-evolving field we will work to keep our info up to date, but if you have current information you believe is not reflected, please message us on social media and we'll update selections accordingly. With all of that said - Here are our top choices.

  • Signal - Private Messaging App

    Signal - Private Messaging App

    Signal is a solid messaging application with an eye on simplicity, from the team at Open Whisper Systems. This app offers secure messaging, group messaging, voice calls, file attachments, and even video chats. The SignalProtocol (formerly known as AXOLOTL) encryption approach is a thing of beauty and provides the backbone to more than one secure messaging app on this list (detail). Signal avoids any paid options or ads due to the large grant-funded staff, with public development to supplement the open-source code. The final product is so impressive that behemoths like Google, Facebook, & WhatsApp are tying it into offerings. Signal pulls contacts from your device's internal address book and pushes all data through their brilliantly engineered end-to-end encryption. The minimally designed interface adds a comforting level of simplicity that belies the insane security measures baked in. Highly Recommended

    EFF Score: 100% | Detail: Wikipedia
    Download: iOS, Android
    Visit Signal
  • ChatSecure - Encrypted Chat

    ChatSecure - Encrypted Chat

    ChatSecure is a free open-sourced offering that allows secure text, files, photos, videos, audio, and a few unique options that deserve some acclaim. The interface is clean and minimal, but the security measures are far from it. The app currently offers "Off the Record" encryption with an Ed25519 key that passes through XMPP with accompanying TLS certificates, but there are plans to move to an OMEMO approach shortly (that enough acronyms for ya!?). As if all those measures weren't enough, Android users can even pass their connection through TOR to anonymize a connection further. The amount of deep customizability is impressive, with a couple of steps you can port your connection through a private server or run it with another XMPP application on your desktop. New users should find the basic options more than sufficient, but tinkerers will love the expandability ChatSecure allows.

    EFF Score: 100% | Detail: Wikipedia
    Download: iOS
    Visit ChatSecure
  • Silent Phone - Secure Messaging

    Silent Phone - Secure Messaging

    Silent Phone is a well-constructed secure messaging offering from Silent Circle. It is notably the only inclusion with a monthly fee and a proprietary "ZRTP" approach. Silent allows secure messaging, group messaging, voice calls, file attachments, and video chat seamlessly through industry-leading end-to-end encryption. Engineering has ticked all the EFF boxes including the addition of self-destructing messaging and file transfers. Enterprise users will especially love their smartphone "The Blackphone" and their "Silent Manager" which allows independent management control of multiple devices. Silent Phone itself is an impressive application and should be at the front of the list of any users considering integration into their business operations.

    EFF Score: 100% | Detail: Wikipedia
    Download: iOS & Android
    Visit Silent Phone
  • WhatsApp - Secure Messaging App

    WhatsApp - Secure Messaging App

    WhatsApp made tons of waves when recently purchased, but deserves even more acclaim for introducing much of the general public to the concept of secure communication. After working with Open Whisper Systems in 2014, WhatsApp now offers end-to-end encryption through that impressive SignalProtocol and includes a new user verification code feature that tightens things even further (detail). While new ownership could make some users skeptical, their code remains open-source, and public versions are available on iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Android, and Nokia. The market share alone makes them a contender, but their frequent updates, approach-ability, massive development team, solid UX, and recent additions, keep them towards the front of the pack.

    EFF Score: 86% | Detail: Wikipedia
    Download: iOS, Android, Windows, Desktop
    Visit WhatsApp
  • Telegram - Encrypted Chat

    Telegram - Encrypted Chat

    Telegram Messenger is well-constructed encrypted chat app with an open API & protocol and a goal to open source everything soon. The messenger itself looks like any other local app, but the additions from this cloud-based option are vast. The accompanying desktop application makes this a great option for users looking to use both platforms frequently and including cloud-based storage shows that Telegram is looking to become more of a secure platform. While this may be a difficult task, the infrastructure is all there and baked by industry-standard AES256 end-to-end encryption. Their funding from the Digital Fortress Fund allows them a little freedom from hunting profits and if Telegram Messenger swings back to improving security implementations just a touch, it will remain on top. Their offerings are impressive, their goal is to remain "free forever", and the future of the platform looks particularly bright.

    EFF Score: 57% | Detail: Wikipedia
    Download: iOS, Android, Windows, Desktop
    Visit Telegram
  • Threema - Secure Messaging

    Threema - Secure Messaging

    Threema offers mobile secure messaging and the ability to transmit any files you could ever need. The app features end-to-end encryption, meets almost every EFF security suggestion, and offers the ability to utilize the app completely anonymously. The company sends a random ID from its home base in Switzerland and no other verification is necessary. The core runs AES256 end-to-end encryption and is very well explained in its security documentation. The app also utilizes QR codes to function as a handshake that confirms user verification. Threema allows text, photos, videos, calls, and file sharing of up to 20MB! The anonymous polling addition adds a nice touch to an overall clean and well-designed app.

    EFF Score: 86% | Detail: Wikipedia
    Download: iOS, Android, Windows
    Visit Threema
  • Surespot - Encrypted Messenger

    Surespot - Encrypted Messenger

    Surespot Encrypted Messenger goes with the no-frills approach but certainly doesn't skimp on security engineering. The UX may not be conducive to daily use, but the open-source code proves that the 256-bit AES-GCM end-to-end encryption certainly does its job. Like the previous offering, no user information is required at all to get started. Any user needing solid security on occasion will love adding Surespot to their lineup to handle text, image, and voice messages. If a little effort is put into improving overall usability, you'll certainly be looking at one of the top contenders in the market.

    EFF Score: 72% | Detail: Wikipedia
    Download: iOS, Android
    Visit Surespot
  • Wickr Messager - Encrypted Text App

    Wickr Messager - Encrypted App

    Wickr Messager is a free encrypted text app with a professional option that has recently made notable strides on the usability side. The app offers private self-destructing messages, photos, videos, calls, and an accompanying fully flushed desktop application. The core runs industry standard end-to-end encryption with AES256, automatically strips attachment metadata, multi-salts user info with SHA256, and while not open source, is review-able and audited quarterly. Notice: Now owned by Amazon.

    EFF Score: 72% | Detail: Wikipedia
    Download: iOS, Android, Windows, Linux
    Visit Wickr Me

Since particular needs are individual, it's important to define your needs. Most usage will exist as a grey area between needs, so we'll try to give you a couple of the best for each. Will you be using it for work or personal? Any casual user should probably consider the debate to be Signal vs ChatSecure. A business enterprise user should check out the offerings from Silent Phone and Wickr. Folks using secure text on extremely rare occasions should probably weigh out Threema vs Surespot. Do you need the most secure messaging available? You should probably let the shopping battle be Signal vs ChatSecure vs Silent. Would you like the ability to message from your computer as well? If you prefer to use multiple platforms, the debate would be Wickr vs Telegram. Curious of our favorites? With all things considered and a particular eye for well-designed UX, our in-house favorites have got to be Signal, Wickr, and Telegram. That said - All of the above options should be considered industry leaders and extremely viable options for encrypted chat.

Crucial Security Factors Involved in a Private Messaging App

We briefly mentioned the most important functional factors that went into our selection process earlier, but a little more depth is pretty useful. While security is ever-evolving, these should all be considered requirements for any application claiming to be "secure". These are all comprised of EFF mentions, but it should be noted that the EFF reporting speaks more to attempt than execution in its current version (although there is an update dropping soon). We've reviewed white papers and press as a way to double-check their progress. We'll certainly include links to more technical concepts, but these are the security factors average users should be mindful of.

  • End-to-End Encryption (E2EE): The most fundamental requirement for secure communication is to prevent eavesdropping or highjacking during transit. While a fair amount of real-world issues take place on one end of this communication line, you simply cannot have secure communication without solid End-to-End Encryption during transmission. All transmission must be encrypted and ideally, the app's developer will not even have access to the key. This removes the possibility of the app owner accessing messages, which also washes their hands of the process from a legal standpoint. If they don't have access to the encryption key after all, they have nothing to offer any party that could be asking.
Operational Considerations to Ensure Secure Messaging

"I use Signal every day. #notesforFBI (Spoiler: they already know)"

Edward Snowden@Snowden

Average users may find the term "Op-Sec" intimidating, but it's just the intersection of common sense and technology. If you hand someone your unlocked phone, for example, it undermines the value of sending encrypted texts. While I won't bother to spell out every potential operational concern, there are a few resources those concerned with security should look into. Follow all your basic manufacturer specs for iOS & Android security, make sure you're using a secure VPN if possible (especially when on the road), and include a few Android-specific security measures if applicable. It may go without saying, but I'd also suggest deactivating your WiFi and Bluetooth and only enabling it as needed. The default iOS setting of joining open WiFi for example produces MANY security problems as far as I'm concerned.

Another approach was brought to my attention recently and I found the concept very interesting. Although my intro offered a much fuller picture, the basic idea is to find out what international terrorists are doing and mimic their operational precautions. If you're looking for a test group that values secure messaging, you'd be hard-pressed to find better data. This article by Wired (Security Manual Reveals the OPSEC Advice ISIS Gives Recruits) goes into great detail on the matter and includes an interesting 34-page PDF guide to ISIS operational security. We're certainly not endorsing their particularly vile brand of terrorism, but they do make for an interesting study group (and you don't even need to feel guilty for stealing their ideas).

Support and Promote the Cause

Providing secure communication to the general public is a difficult job. Besides pushing back against the ever-encroaching grasp of the government, it also involves standing against an overwhelming amount of large corporations attempting to harvest and capitalize on your data. Any business would find those systematic adversaries a large hurdle, but that's not it. On top of all of that lies a precarious dichotomy, you're trying to provide an insanely complicated (and cost-intensive) product that must be adoptable by the masses. Despite that, almost all of the apps we listed are free to the public. So here's our suggestion - if you like the app, simply donate $10-20 to the creators. That's an insanely low cost for such useful functionality, but it can help massively to encourage progress in the field. If you believe in the cause as a whole support the Electronic Frontier Foundation and WikiLeaks. These folks have jeopardized so much to inform the public and fight for our security, donating a few dollars is the least we can all do.

Hopefully, this post has helped many of you understand the fundamentals of secure messaging and some of the best-encrypted chat apps to get you started. The benefits of secure communication may be difficult to grasp, but it would be very unfortunate if we all choose to learn the value by losing the option. Try these apps, share them with your friends, and give them some social love. These teams and companies are fighting a largely altruistic battle and it's a cause that benefits us all. Thanks for stopping by, feel free to shoot us any updates through social media & if you've found the information at all useful - Please Share.

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  • Title: Secure Messaging Apps for Encrypted Chat
  • Summary: We've compiled the top secure messaging apps available, which allow anonymous encrypted chat, secure messaging, file transmission, secure text messaging & more.
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