5 popular messaging apps, ranked from least to most secure

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Whether you only chat to a small circle of people or have friends and family all around the world, most of us rely on messaging apps to communicate. As you send texts back and forth and share photos, files and videos, you might be wondering: are my messages secure?

As a user, you have the right to private chats, away from hackers and snooping eyes. Here, we explain the concept of encrypted messaging, and rank some of the most popular apps on the market so you can make the best choice.


What makes an app secure?

There are dozens of messaging apps on the market, but only a few stand out for their security. Before you commit to an app, make sure it has the following safety features:

  • End-to-end encryption (E2E). Encryption keeps any data you send and receive private. What does end-to-end encryption mean? In plain English, it mixes up your chat messages and only allows people who have the “keys” — in this case, the sender and intended recipient — to read them. The company behind the app can’t see your messages, either, and encryption makes hackers’ job impossible.
  • Strict rules surrounding use of data. As an app user, the last thing you want is your app selling your data to a third party. When you’re comparing apps, go to the privacy policy and check whether the platform collects metadata about its users. This may include your IP address and phone number, as well as information about who you talk to, on what device, and for how long.
  • Use of open source code. With this in place, experts can assess and audit the app and alert the developers about any flaws or weaknesses in the code.

Some of the best private messaging apps have additional features, like multi-factor authentication (MFA) and the ability to make your messages disappear after a set period of time. But the three features listed above are crucial to messaging app security.


The most secure messaging apps, ranked


To help you narrow down your options, let’s hone in on the most popular messaging apps, ranked from least secure to the most secure messaging app.

#5 Facebook Messenger
Messenger is ubiquitous, and its main pro is that you can continue using it even if you deactivate your Facebook. Unfortunately, the positives stop there. Facebook turns off encryption by default, which means users need to physically go into their settings menu and choose “Secret Conversations” to ensure their messages remain private. With the Secret Conversations on Messenger option selected, users can also opt-in to self-destructing messages, similar to Snapchat.

The company collects data, such as how often you use the app and the people you text. You can easily take screenshots of messages, and Facebook has had several data breaches over the past few years, putting the social media giant's trustworthiness in question.

#4 iMessage
Apple’s text messaging system exclusively works on Apple devices with iOS, macOS, iPadOS or watchOS installed. iMessage has a few great built-in security features. It automatically offers end-to-end encryption, and if you have iOS 10 or above, you can control how long each text, photo or video will show up before it vanishes, as well as how many times the recipient can see that content (similar to Instagram’s direct messages).

However, iMessage also has its downsides. Apple stores sensitive details like phone numbers, contact lists and IP addresses in plain text as opposed to hashes, which are more secure. The app doesn’t encrypt data synced to iCloud, so if you back up your iMessages to the cloud, that could leave you vulnerable to hackers.

#3 WhatsApp
With over 1 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp is among the most widely used messaging apps. It has a sleek interface and uses the best-in-class encryption protocol developed for Signal (more on that in a minute) by Open Whisper Systems. Along with offering end-to-end encryption, the system features Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). What does this mean? If a hacker is clever enough to steal the “key” to your private conversation, they’ll only be able to view the last message you sent. All previous messages you sent or received will stay secret.

WhatsApp doesn’t store messages on its servers, which adds an extra layer of protection for users if cyber criminals manage to hack into the back end. The app also allows users to set up two-factor authentication to access messages.

On the flip side, WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which has been plagued by security breaches and concerns for years. Gathering user data underpins the company’s success, so keep this in mind if you decide to use WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family.

#2 Wickr Me
Wickr Me stands out in a saturated market for its security features. Founded by a team of security experts in 2012, it’s open-source, and never collects user data or metadata. Encryption is turned on by default, and users can request a transparency report from the company whenever they like. Users can also set a timer to “shred” — or delete — all conversations and files they send on the platform after a certain period of time. 

The app is one of the only platforms that can be truly used anonymously: you don’t need a phone number or email to sign up. It supports two-factor authentication and notifies users if someone has taken a screenshot of a message they sent. Finally, WickrMe has a paid Pro version that encrypts video calls, a rare offering.

#1 Signal
Is the Signal app secure? The answer is a resounding yes — it’s currently the most secure app on the market for both Apple and Android users. It uses its own encryption protocol — the one WhatsApp now uses, which is considered to be the industry standard. Its end-to-end encryption aside, Signal offers typical security features such as disappearing messages. It doesn’t store user data or metadata; that’s all stored locally on your phone. Signal offers a desktop version for Windows, Mac and Linux

Unlike most other messaging apps, Signal isn’t owned by a Big Tech company. The open-source platform was founded by a cryptographer and roboticist, and anyone is welcome to check the app for vulnerabilities. 


Safeguard your smartphone now

To strengthen your security, it’s worth installing premium mobile antivirus software. ESET Mobile Security works to protect your phone from a range of cyber threats, including malware, ransomware and spyware. The best mobile antivirus, it also prevents unauthorised users from gaining access to your networks and systems and blocks offensive and harmful content.