This post was originally published on December 22, 2014. We’ve since done a follow-up post about even more encrypted chat apps for you to keep your conversations private!
In the wake of NSA snooping revelations and increasing corporate scrutiny of even “private” communications, mobile device users are looking for ways to message friends and family without worrying that their words, pictures and videos are being intercepted and examined. The result is a burgeoning market for encrypted chat apps: Here are six of the most interesting.
The brainchild of antivirus guru John McAfee, Chadder was designed by Future Tense Private Systems (FTC), a company that McAfee founded and has several other security-type apps in the works.
Chadder is entirely focused on privacy: only the intended recipient of a message is able to decrypt it, and everyone else should only see “garbled, encrypted text.” The cross-platform messaging app is available for Android, Apple and Windows devices uses a combination of ECDH with the SecP256k1 encryption along with AES 256 and ECDSA for message signing. To use the app, you simply download, create a username, nickname and password and start texting. You can either hook up with other users via your mobile number and email address or generate a unique code for enhanced privacy.
Chadder can be used on Android, on your iOS device and on your Windows phone.
Telegram also works across mobile devices, and on all desktop platforms. This cloud-based application heavily encrypts its messages and includes a self-destruct mechanism. It uses two layers of encryption, one for server-client and one for client-client communication based on 256-bit AES and RSA 2048. It’s possible to access messages from multiple devices and send any kind of media file — the service is free and there are currently no limits on file size or chat volume.
You can use Telegram on Android, iPhone and iPad, Windows Phone and their web version available on Mac, Windows and Linux.
Next up is ChatSecure, formerly Gibberbot from The Guardian Project. This app works with iPhones, Macs, Androids, Linux and PC but doesn’t come with support for Windows phones. It was called one of the “best 100 apps for 2013” by PC Mag, and uses a form of off-the-record (OTR) encryption to keep conversations secure, saying “they cannot be logged or intercepted by anyone.” In combination with a plug-in called Orbot, the developers claim it can bypass most network restrictions and blacklists that would otherwise prohibit an encrypted chat app.
ChatSecure is available on iOS and Android.
According to the app’s website, securespot is a 100 percent open-source encrypted chat service. This commitment to open-source allows “the world to review, scrutinize, contribute to and even use” the application’s code without cost — despite this focus on transparency, however, surespot also promises safety and security for every text message, picture and video.
How? The service isn’t associated with your phone number or email address, uses multiple identities on single devices, 256 bit AES-CGM and encryption keys created with 521 bit ECDH for end-to-end protection. If you choose to delete a message, it is not only deleted from your phone but also surespot’s server and the recipient’s device. In addition, the service never recovers or resets users passwords to ensure accounts cannot be easily compromised.
You can download surespot on Google Play Store for Android, and the App Store for iOS.
Based out of Korea, KakaoTalk isn’t natively encrypted, but recently introduced a new “Secret Chat” mode with end-to-end encryption. It works like this: users can set up chat rooms which allow one-on-one secure chats. The encryption key is always stored on your device, and each message is encrypted separately. Right now, only person-to-person chats are available, but the service says it is rolling out secure group chatrooms in early 2015.
KakaoTalk is available on Android, iPhone and iPad, Windows Phone and their web version on Mac, Windows and Linux.
A secure messaging app from BitTorrent, the idea behind Bleep is intriguing: offline messaging. The idea here is to let you log in, send a message to a friend even if they’re not online and then deliver that message whenever they log on. For the moment, this doesn’t quite work: messages are only sent when both parties are online. But Bleep promises true “asynchronous” support soon, which won’t use servers but instead only stores content on your device. The app will use Distributed Hash Tables (DHTs) to store data offline until they have been retrieved, then eliminate any trace of the information.
Bleep can be downloaded on your iPhone and Android devices.
Encrypted messaging apps offer unique benefits: many cite “fun” as part of their pitch because you’re free to be yourself without the specter of interception or observation. Like a VPN for your witty remarks, funny photos and hilarious videos, these apps are gaining ground and rightly so — everyone deserves the right to be unheard and unread on demand.