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Whatsapp vs Signal vs Telegram: What Features Make Messaging Apps More Secure?

Alekh Verma | February 9, 2023
Whatsapp vs Signal vs Telegram

In Jan 2021, Elon Musk posted a sensational tweet 'Use Signal', and the next day Signal app witnesses a huge surge in users. This surge was so big that the server had difficulty in handling the situation. It made Signal app famous over the night. 

But wait, what is the key reason behind the scene? 

Nowadays, app security and user privacy are becoming hot topics. Businesses know that users don't comprise their privacy no matter how attractive features they offer. Billions of people use social messaging apps. Users now prefer those apps which offer them robust data security features. 

There is a debate catching fire on the Internet about-WhatsApp vs Signal vs Telegram. People are highly interested to know what are features that make messaging apps more secure. 

So today in this blog, I will decode the secrets of these popular apps and tell you about those features that make messaging apps more secure

Why privacy and security concern of messaging apps is rising?

Over the years, messaging apps have become an unavoidable part of everyone's life. It makes easy to communicate and connect with people around the world on real-time. 

Along with this, privacy and security issues have remained a high priority concern for users. They want their personal messages to be protected and not being watched by external sources. 

However, private messages could potentially be read by the organizations behind the apps and third parties who collect private information of users. 

You should note that popular apps like Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat don't use end-to-end encryption, which means your private conversations and files may not be completely secured. 

WhatsApp was in the news over its privacy policy which created a debate on social media platforms. This privacy concern created a heated discussion that influenced many users to migrate to other social messaging apps. 

On the other hand, there are many messaging apps now offering instant messaging services which are equipped with end-to-end encryption and top security features. 

These features stop outsiders from seeing the personal message of a user. That is why people are now looking for the best secure messaging apps which protect their privacy and personal data. 

What does it mean by a secure messaging app?

To understand the importance of this question, let's first understand- 

What is a messaging app?

A messaging app is a real-time chat or messaging application or platform that enables users to message and connect with other users through their computers or mobile devices. You might be already using these apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Snapchat, Line, and so on. 

These social messaging apps store your personal or sensitive data that include your DOB, contact number, device information, location, email address, contacts, personal messages, and other data. 

In this context, the security of your personal data and messages becomes highly essential because you are not aware of how these apps work to protect sensitive information. 

Eventually, you need a secure messaging app

A secure messaging app is one that uses end-to-end encryption and multilayer security to protect the secrecy of user's information and prevent external parties to see the private chats. 

How does secure messaging app work?

A typical messenger app has three main interconnected elements: 

  1. The sender's device
  2. A Server
  3. The receiver's device 

When a user sends a message to other user, it goes via a server. Without encryption, this message will be transmitted as plain or same text and therefore, it can be read by anyone if get access to it. 

On the other side with encryption, the message is converted into cyphertext-encrypted with a key, which again converted back (decrypted) on the receiver's device, with a paired key. 

This is called end-to-end encryption which means the encryption keys are stored at the user ends i.e. on users' devices, instead of on the server. In this process, not even the service provider who owns the server can access these encryption keys. 

To hack these messages, hacker needs to access users' devices. WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal which are trending messaging apps use end-to-end encryption. 

So what makes the difference among them? 

To know this, understand the weak point of end-to-end encryption. 

End-to-end encryption is definitely a strong measure to protect messages and users' private information. At the same time, it is also susceptible to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. Expert MITM attackers can hack the public key stored on a server and configure the system to recognize the hacker as an authorized receiver, instead of real user. 

This loop-hole gives opportunity to external party or person to see conversation and even participate in the place of actual user. 

Hence, how strong encryption is enabled determines how secure a messaging app is

What is the solution to battle MITM attacks?

It's clear. Any messenger app which enables robust encryption that protects from MITM attacks has higher security. WhatsApp only encrypts the content of messages. 

This means WhatsApp can’t see personal messages but can see who you are talking to, when, and from where. This is called metadata which can reveal personal data about all participants involved in a conversation. 

But Signal app uses an upgraded encryption technique that encodes metadata as well. It means no one, not even the app owners can decode it without direct access to users' devices. 

Telegram also uses strong end-to-end encryption, however, encryption is only applied in secret mode, not to all chats by default. Therefore, people are looking for better messaging apps. Internet is buzzing on deciding the best among WhatsApp vs Signal vs Telegram. 

So, let's decode the key features of these apps and find out which is the best secure messaging app. 

WhatsApp vs Signal vs Telegram

There is a difference between security and privacy. Security is about protecting users' data against unauthorized access, and privacy is about safeguarding users' identity no matter who has access to that data.

WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram all claim to provide strong end-to-end encryption. It means no outsiders can view your personal messages and device information. 

But they encrypt some portions of their app- WhatsApp encrypts the contents of messages, not metadata, Telegram encrypts only secret mode, not group chats, only Signal app encrypts all chats. 

Let’s decode each app 

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is a popular messaging app. It enables end-to-end encryption and does not store messages on its servers. WhatsApp stores its messages by allowing them to be backed on the cloud. However, it also allows users to delete chats from these cloud backups. 

Key features of WhatsApp:

  • Status feature
  • Group video calls (max 8 people at a time)
  • Share all types of files and documents (up to 100MB)
  • Share photos, videos, and audio files up to 16MB
  • Share live location with your contacts
  • Backup and restore messages on cloud like Google Drive and iCloud
  • Uses end-to-end encryption (E2E) for communication
  • Its E2E protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems, same as Signal 

Telegram

Telegram is a rising app for strongly encrypted conversations. It provides E2E protocol only for one-to-one conversation, not for groups. 

However, users need to turn on secret mode for a private one-to-one chat. Telegram has self-destructing messages and offers support to groups of up to 200,000 members. 

Key features of Telegram:

  • Self-destructing messages, where messages automatically get deleted after a certain period
  • The size limit for sharing files and documents on Telegram is 1.5GB
  • Support voice and video calls on Android and iOS devices.
  • Telegram supports end-to-end encryption only in secret chat feature 

Signal

Signal app is a free messenger app that is gaining huge popularity for its privacy features. Signal is a cross platform messaging service that offers end-to-end encrypted voice calling and texting. It allows you to create groups, but not broadcasting messages to multiple contacts at a time. 

Key features of Signal:

  • Provide self-destructing messages
  • Use backend user-facing encryption service
  • Encrypts metadata
  • Offer multiple levels of security 

WhatsApp vs Signal vs Telegram  

WhatsApp vs Signal vs Telegram  

So, which is the most secure app?

WhatsApp has dominance in terms of users but has faced some critics on its privacy policy. Telegram comes in the middle that gives extended features with specific chat security. 

Therefore, by analyzing the above comparison table, it is clear that Signal stands as the most secure messaging app. Considering the Signal app, people want to know what are features that ultimately make an app highly safe and protected. 

What features make messaging apps more secure?

Messaging apps have billions of users across the world and highly used in day-to-day life. People share almost everything using social messaging apps. 

Therefore, it becomes critical to add advanced security features to the app that makes it fully secured against external attacks and data breaches. There are some important criteria on the basis it can be measured how a messaging or chat app is secure. They are: 

  • Code open to independent review
  • Well-documented cryptographic design
  • Communication encrypted in a transit
  • No provider should access the encryption keys
  • Protect past messages if the keys are stolen
  • Independent security audit 

It is rare that any app meets all of above conditions. Signal is the only app which stands on the above criteria. Hence, features that fulfill these conditions will make the app most secure. 

1. Registration with a phone number

Registration is the first part that determines how easy to log into an app. Things become even smoother when you don't need to use email address of social media login as these are more prone to be hacked. 

That is why if any app allows registration with a phone number and confirmation code i.e. usually an OTP; it makes the app safe from unauthorized access. WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram use this registration method. 

2. Self-destructing messages

This is an important feature that protects data in case of data breach takes place. A user can set up a time period ranging from 5 seconds to 1 week for all the seen messages to delete automatically or self-destruct. Some apps even don't allow taking a screenshot of a chat. 

3. Voice and Video calls

Text messages usually prone to be seen easily. Therefore, voice and video calling features give secure way of communication because it is difficult to get access to voice and video calling of an app. 

4. Group chat security

Most apps provide security to one-to-one chat. But when it comes to group chat protection, some apps get weaker. Telegram is one of them which don't provide privacy or secret mode feature to group chat. 

This makes group privacy vulnerable. Hence, a messaging app must include features to protect group chat privacy. WhatsApp and Signal both provide this feature. 

5. Secure content sharing

Privacy is not only about securing text messages but also keeping content sharing safe and private. Today's users share their personal things and activities on their chat or messaging apps. That is why it becomes essential to safeguard all types of content: text, GIFs, photos, videos, documents, voice messages, or any file. 

6. Encryption and Security

Implementing security protocols is not an easy task; in fact, it requires a great deal of effort. Organizations behind a messaging app need to clarify what encryption technique they are using in their app so that users can be assured of their technology. 

App developers must know how to ensure mobile app security and strong encryption that provides better security features. 

For example, Signal app claims to follow these cryptographic protocols: 

  • Double Ratchet algorithm, Curve25519
  • Extended Triple Diffie-Hellman (X3DH)
  • HMAC-SHA256
  • AES-256 

Telegram utilizes its own 256-bit symmetric AES encryption-based algorithm known as MTProto for secret chats. 

7. Protect Metadata

Metadata is an important aspect along with other content of messages. Metadata includes sender and receiver IDs, login time, IP addresses, device types and other information that has potential to reveal your identity and habits. 

Thus a messaging app must protect metadata to ensure the complete privacy of users' information. 

8. Data Collection

How much an app store a user's data decide how secure is it to use the app? When you use an app, it stores ranging information such as device type, location, IP address, contacts, etc. 

You should check whether messaging apps are storing much data about you and your device. The more they collect, the higher chance of associated risks would be there. Any feature that requires less data collection is believed to be the better security feature. 

For example; 

WhatsApp Data Collection

  • Coarse Location
  • Phone Number
  • Email Address
  • Device ID
  • User ID
  • Advertising Data
  • Purchase History
  • Payment Info
  • Customer Support
  • Product Interaction
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
  • Contacts
  • Product Interaction 

Telegram Data Collection

  • User ID
  • Contacts
  • Contact Info

Signal Data Collection

  • None
  • It only stores your phone number 

Conclusion

Secure messaging apps are critically important, and the demand for more advanced features to protect the user data and privacy is high today and will be higher tomorrow. 

You should note that enabling encryption is a difficult task and requires technology and resources. If security matters to you the most, you can create an app like Signal, or stay in the middle with fancy features and specific security features like Telegram. 

If you would like to know more about how to develop a secure messaging app, schedule a free consultation, and our developer team will be soon available to discuss your project idea. 

Alekh Verma

CEO and Founder at eSearch Logix Technologies!

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