By: Joshua Roberts
Everyone communicates with their friends, family, and in some cases even colleagues. When it comes to apps we are spoiled by the sheer number of choices we can make. We could use any number of applications to communicate, but that does not mean we should. In fact I would only advise a handful of apps to communicate with. The apps I will cover are ones that are trusted with your privacy, and security as a top priority.
iMessage is an app created by Apple for its products running iOS such as the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. Honestly iMessage is a fantastic product. It is designed very well, and offers all the expected features of an app built for communicating. One of the best features is that if you are sending a message to another iOS user then it is sent through iMessage. Now while their are plenty of features, Apples primary focus is security. That’s a big deal. Bigger than most know. At this moment no other tech giant puts so much emphasis on security. Google does a great job, but the one pitfall for android is that it does not have a built-in, end-to-end encrypted messaging application. Apple however separates itself from the crowd with its iMessaging platform. Apple’s iMessage encrypts your messaging end-to-end, which means that even Apple cannot read your message, or its contents. This is rather important considering it was part of Prism. Not everyone knows what Prism was, but to make this article short, it was simply a direct connection between the National Security Agency and multiple tech giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Why does that matter? It allowed the NSA to intercept every communication sent through any company involved in Prism. As a way of saving face with security experts, and its customer base Apple started using end-to-end encryption. What we do know now is that Apple can decrypt all messages sent through iMessage if the device is on iOS 8.0 or below. Not only that if Apple’s servers detect a slow or sporadic connection it sends all messages in plain text, meaning it doesn’t use encryption if you have a bad connection. What’s worse is it doesn’t give you a choice to use encryption or not, and when it sends messages insecurely it does not inform the user as such. Apple’s iMessage has three shortcoming when it comes to security. 1) Its not open-source. That means no-one can verify how secure it is, or what encryption it uses. 2) It does not always use encryption. With all that being said iMessage is still a great choice as a way to send text messages and they be seamlessly secure. However it can’t always be trusted as being secure. 3) It is only available on Apple devices. If you have family, friends, or even colleagues on another operating system such as android, then you will only have the option of using regular text messages or another app. Now comes the question is there an alternative that is better? The answer to that, at least from a security point-of-view, is a resounding yes!
Signal is a messaging application that seamlessly allows for secure communications. Signal is completely free, open-source, and cross-platform. It can almost be called iMessage for android, and iPhone, but its still unique because it has none of the draw-backs of iMessage. Signal always encrypts your messages before sending them, so long as the person you are texting is also using signal. This is where Signal differs from iMessage. How so? Well first let me explain how Signal is setup vs iMessage. Signal is basically a front and backend messaging service. To set it up you install it, open it, and put in your phone number. After that when you send a text message Signal automatically detects if the phone number your messaging also uses Signal. If the phone number uses Signal, then your communications are and will always be secure with that phone number. iMessage is a backend messaging service and will always intercept messages between registered iOS devices. The draw back to that method is that if an iPhone user loses access to an iPhone, such as its stolen, then that person will have to disable iMessage’s intercepting from a computer in order to begin receiving messages again. That is not saying it’s bad methodology, but that Signals method will always ensure your message is sent. With that being said if Signal does need to send a message that not encrypted you will know, and from there you can choose to go ahead and send the message or not. Lastly Signal has a beta desktop client that allows you to send and receive text from the computer, and it has a feature that isn’t offered through iMessage: encrypted phone calls.
Honestly these are two of the most secure messaging platforms available, and they both handle text messaging. There are other secure messaging apps available, but no others offer encrypting and securing your text messages(SMS) and multimedia messages(MMS) while using your actual phone number. I personally believe Signal is the most secure of the two choices, and honestly its easier so long as you know how to install an app from the app store. Additionally you will never have to worry about the “what if my phone is stolen, lost, or etc” scenarios because using Signal will always ensure that you receive your messages. Apple has improved the process to start receiving your messages again if those scenarios arise, but if it can be avoided all together then that’s the better choice. If your on iOS, you can make the choice for yourself, but if your on android and want something “like” iMessage Signal is the only choice. In any case Signal is also the only messaging application that sends SMS and MMS that received a perfect score for security by the Electronic Frontier Foundation(EFF). If nothing else regardless of platform, try Signal, and I am certain you will be glad you did.
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