You don’t have to be German Chancellor Angela Merkel to be concerned about the privacy and security of your phone conversations. If you’re worried that someone might be listening to your calls or reading your messages, then you share the sentiments of the 60 percent or so of the American public that has decried the National Security Agency’s spying activities.
Security is mostly the concern of those who are in the business of keeping their matters to themselves and a restricted group. This can include dissidents wary of their governments keeping tabs on them, celebrities not wanting the press or public eavesdropping on their conversations, business executives who may be discussing trade secrets, or even perhaps journalists who want to protect the identity of their sources and the integrity of the information these sources say.
Even if you do not fall under one of these groups, you might still want peace of mind knowing that your messages reach the intended recipient and are not intercepted en route to their device. Here are a couple of apps you should try out.
Silent Circle prides itself for being a secure call and messaging company that even law enforcement agencies use for their communication needs. The company’s apps work on different platforms, including Android and iOS, and desktop computers. Services include encrypted calls, text messages and exchange of documents and multimedia files, and works over both WiFi and cellular data networks.
Silent Circle offers peer-to-peer encryption, meaning the encryption keys are not stored on a central server, which can be vulnerable to attacks or court subpoenas. The keys are created on-device, and are destroyed after the session is over. The app’s text messaging service also has a “burn notice” capability, which destroys messages and conversation threads after a set time.
The service is not free, however. Silent Circle costs $9.95 monthly for the basic service (or $99 per year). Big organizations also get enterprise pricing, and get additional features like a management console for central administration. Silent Phone and Silent Text are free on Google Play, but requires a subscription to activate.
If you have information to protect, but would rather not pay for a premium service, then Telegram is a good alternative for your privacy needs. Developed by the makers of VKontakte (VK), which is the biggest social network in Russia, Telegram run on Android and iOS devices, and offers fast and simple instant messaging, similar to WhatsApp, Viber and Line. An added functionality, however, is the secure messaging service that users can initiate to ensure privacy in their chats.
Like Silent Circle, Telegram also provides peer-based end-to-end encryption, and users can also set a time limit for messages to self-destruct. Secure chats also cannot be forwarded, and these messages are not stored on any of VK’s servers. These are only stored on the device, and can be destroyed to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
VK’s creators, Nikolai and Pavel Durov — widely considered to be the “Mark Zuckerberg of Russia” — have also open-sourced the platform, to allow security experts to scrutinize the application. The founders say they were inspired by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in creating the app. They are also opening the platform’s API for use by other developers who wish to build on the privacy and security features of Telegram.
Telegram is a free download from Google Play. The user base is a bit limited at this time — about 100,000 users globally — but its privacy features should make it a good alternative to other instant messaging services that can easily be monitored. If not for the privacy features, the app does offer fast group chats for up to 100 users (other apps like WhatsApp support only 50) and lets users send up to 1 GB of data and files in chats.