These are actually the most secure apps this Christmas

(Image credit: Shutterstock / ImYanis)

After recently discovering a chat service that was leaking user's images as well as video and audio recordings, the CyberNews investigation team decided to conduct a deep dive into the security features of larger messaging apps.

The news outlet's researchers looked at various aspects of 13 popular secure messaging apps including Signal, Wickr Me, Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Wire, Viber, Cyber Dust, iMessage, Pryvate, Qtox, Session and Briar to find that 11 of the 13 apps were secure by default.

Instead of trying to rank these apps in any way, CyberNews instead focused on investigating the applications' encryption, transport and overall privacy. Overall, the researchers' findings were mostly positive with all but two of the apps, Telegram and Messenger, offering security by default. 

Even then though, Telegram and Messenger could easily be made secure by changing user settings on a per conversation basis.

Secure messaging apps

When discussing secure messaging apps, most of the attention is usually placed on the more popular apps such as Signal, Messenger, Viber, Telegram and WhatsApp. However, CyberNews want to expand its analysis to understand the larger scope of the secure messaging industry by looking at less-popular services such as Session, Briar, Wickr Me, Wire and Cyber Dust.

Of these apps, Signal, Messenger, WhatsApp and Session all use the Signal protocol for end-to-end encryption. With end-to-end encryption, only the sender and the receiver are able to view messages while without it, the messaging app server that sits between the sender and the receiver might be able to read the messages.

One interesting finding from the news outlet's research is the fact that Apple's iMessage only uses encryption on HTTPS. As a result, messages sent through GSM on 2G and 3G devices are not encrypted. CyberNews also found that Briar and Qtox are the only secure messaging apps that use a peer-to-peer (P2P) transport mechanism where there is no server sitting in the middle between the sender and the receiver, enabling messages to go directly from one device to the next.

If you're using Facebook Messenger or Telegram to communicate with friends and family over the holidays, CyberNews recommends that you turn on each app's privacy and security settings. However, you'll need to do this on a conversation-by-conversation basis. To do so in Messenger, you'll need to tap on the “i” button in the top right corner of an active conversation and then select “Go to Secret Conversation” to create a new end-to-end encrypted conversation. The process is similar in Telegram where you'll need to select “Go to Secret Conversation” from the app's settings.

Interested users can read CyberNews' full report here to compare the various aspects of today's most popular secure messaging apps.

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Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.