Protect your messaging apps with a password now

3 min read
Jamie

Jamie is always hungry. He also writes about digital privacy in exchange for sandwiches.

Message icons with a password lock on a speech bubble.

We’ve previously written about which messaging apps you should be using instead of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. (If you’re not using an encrypted messaging app in 2019, what are you even doing?)

To give your messaging apps an extra layer of physical security, set them up with a passcode or a screen lock.

Why should I protect my messaging apps with a password?

First off, password-protecting your device as a whole is essential. Rather than using your fingerprint to unlock your device, choosing a strong password gives you much greater security over the sensitive information on your phone, from your photos to your credit cards. Your fingerprint may be more convenient, but it doesn’t really increase your phone’s security.

If you’re ever in a situation where someone has unlocked your phone (when you’re crossing a border, for instance), or where your unlocked phone is stolen or in someone else’s hands, having an extra layer of security to protect your private messages from prying eyes would provide greater peace of mind.

Messaging apps that allow password protection

Signal, Telegram, and Viber for desktop all have an app-specific password or lock option that you can enable. They’re already in our good books as alternative messaging apps that also support E2E encryption.

Default messaging apps on your devices, both iOS or Android, don’t have additional password protection, and we’d be wary of downloading third-party apps and add-ons that give you a screen lock for you messaging apps.

While WhatsApp has password protection, we still discourage you from using this messenger service, not just because it’s owned by Facebook but also because of serious doubts about their security that arose after several senior government officials in multiple countries were targeted and hacked through their WhatsApp.

Signal (iOS, Android)

Signal’s mobile apps have a screen lock feature that gives you the option of using your phone’s pin, password, or biometric authentication (although we don’t recommend the latter) for unlocking. As of writing, this feature is currently not available on the desktop version.

iOS

  1. In Signal, tap your profile icon and go to Privacy
  2. Tap Screen Lock to turn it on and select your preferred Screen Lock Timeout (ranging from instant to one hour)
  3. To disable it, tap Screen Lock to turn it off, and enter your passcode to confirm changes

Android

  1. In Signal, tap your profile icon and go to Privacy
  2. Tap Screen Lock to turn it on
  3. You can either set the lock to be automatic or manual
    • Automatic
      Go to Settings > Privacy and select your preferred Screen lock activity timeout
    • Manual
      Swipe down from the top of your screen and look for Lock Signal in your notifications

Telegram (iOS, Android)

Telegram has had passcodes on their apps since 2015 but has yet to have a built-in passcode for its desktop app. Note that if you forget your passcode, the only way to get back into your Telegram app is to delete and reinstall it, wiping all your Secret Chats.

iOS & Android

  1. Got to Settings > Privacy and Security > Passcode Lock
  2. Tap Turn Passcode On and create your passcode
  3. You can adjust the time period to activate auto-lock

Viber (desktop)

You can set up a passcode for Viber on desktop. If you’re using it on your phone, however, consider switching to either Signal or Telegram for more secure communications.

Desktop

  1. Open Settings > Privacy & Security > Set Viber-screen Lock
  2. Turn on Viber-screen Lock and type in your four-digit lock code
  3. Click Save changes
  4. You can also set Auto-lock to come on after 1, 5, 15, 30, or 60 minutes

 

Want to level-up your mobile security? Read more in our mobile security privacy guide.

Jamie writes about current issues concerning digital privacy and security and is known to interview leading figures in tech. He also keeps an eye on changes in government censorship and surveillance.