Monday 09 March, 2015

How Secure Are Your Messaging Apps?

Messaging apps are now a huge part of our daily life and they’re even more important for businesses. While casual users enjoy staying in touch with friends and family members through SnapChat, Facebook chat, WhatsApp and the like, businesses often rely on these features for vital communications, sharing highly sensitive information over them. But few people stop to consider just how secure these programs actually are.

Government Spying and Hacking Breaches

All messaging apps advertise themselves as being secure, but what does that really mean? Does it mean that they offer encryption? Many of them do, but few of them encrypt data from the provider. With the dramatic rise in government spying and corporate espionage, this has become a vital concern. Your network may be completely secure, but what if someone can read your business communications?

There have been many high profile security breaches in recent years. Attacks by governments and hackers alike have gotten through the flimsy security protections of messaging apps and exposed a great deal of inside and personal information. Just consider Sony’s recent email breach. This is a severe example, but even a small security breach could critically damage a small company.

Keeping Your Messaging Apps Secure

When choosing a messaging app, exercise caution. Any company can say that its app is secure. Try to rely on objective data, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Secure Messaging Scorecard (discussed below). Do some research to try to discover exactly how “secure” the service actually is.

One feature of many messaging apps now is disappearing messages. After a certain period of time, the app purges all messages. This feature was so popular with SnapChat that soon there were business apps like Wickr and Confide with similar built-in features. This sounds wonderful but it can lull you into a false sense of security. Just because the messages disappear from the app doesn’t mean the service provider or a third party can’t still access the data.

Even if a messaging app is secure in terms of encrypting and protecting data, you still need to exercise the same level of caution as you would with email or social media. There are phishing scams and malware attacks that specifically target messaging apps. Make sure your passwords are strong and change often. Watch out for contacts you don’t know and keep an eye out for anything odd or unexplainable.

Which Apps Are the Most Secure

If you want more details, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Secure Messaging Scorecard. The EFF has taken a whole list of popular messaging apps and rated them by how secure they are.

The winners are ChatSecure + Orbot, CryptoChat, Jitsi & Ostel, Mailvelope, Off-The-Record, PGP, RetroShare, Signal / Redphone, Silent Phone, Silent Text, Subrosa, SureSpot, Telegram, TextSecure, Threema.

The big losers are AIM, BlackBerry Messenger, EBuddy XMS, Facebook Chat, Hushmail, Mxit, QQ, Secret, SnapChat, Virtru, WhatsApp and Yahoo Messenger.

FaceTime, iMessage, BlackBerry Protected, iPGMail, SmartMail and Wickr did alright. If you use any of these services, you should have a look at the scorecard.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, and author living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. With over thirty years of professional consulting experience, Bob has been exposed to many diverse business models and has gained a sensible approach to life. Bob’s company, WaveCentric is focused on commerce, marketing, and entertainment related products.

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