4 Secure Android and iOS Messaging Apps

Tired of worrying about companies and government bodies spying on your texts and chats? Take control of your privacy. There are plenty of apps you can download onto your Android or iOS device — apps that require no maintenance and no degree in computer science, and that provide end-to-end encryption, which means your conversations stay between you and the intended recipient.

The toughest thing you’ll encounter is getting others to adopt these methods of communication, as well as finding ones that work across iOS and Android. As of now, there are few options that check off all the criteria the Electronic Frontier Foundation listed in its recent Secure Messaging Scorecard. You can check out the full list here (it includes phone and email messaging programs); we’ve picked four for our list.

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1. ChatSecure (iOS, Android)

Cross-compatible chat services are hard to come by: Most messaging apps you’ll encounter are for Android or iOS only, and there are hardly any that work on Windows Phone. ChatSecure works across Android and iOS platforms, but the app for the former is more full-featured.

The biggest bonus for Android users is that ChatSecure works with the Orbot proxy app, which allows you to anonymize your device’s location by bouncing you through several Tor nodes around the world. This means that your metadata is protected (so long as you created an anonymous ID), as well as the content of your conversation. It’s always good to have more than one layer of protection.

ChatSecure uses Off-The-Record (OTR) encryption. You can sign into the app with an existing Google Chat, Facebook, or Jabber account; however, if you want to protect your identity, it’s best if you sign up with an account where nothing can be traced back to you.

If you do have an existing account, your contacts will automatically be uploaded, so you can communicate with your friends over PC through Gchat and Facebook accounts. But your messages will only be encrypted so long as both parties are using OTR. Your buddies can enable these features through Gchat on their computer. Friends using Facebook will have to use a third-party app in order to use OTR, as Facebook doesn’t have a way to enable it directly on its site.

PC users can download Pidgin and Mac users can download Adium. Through these chat programs, users can enable OTR encryption and talk to ChatSecure users knowing their messages won’t be decoded.

2. Cryptocat (iOS, Web app)

This app is open source, meaning Cryptocat can be subjected to peer review at any time to make sure no one is slipping in a bad line of code that could leave users exposed. The app can be downloaded on your iOS device or added as a Web app, though the developers recommend using Tor if you’re going to use it through a browser — that way, your IP address will be masked and your identity protected.

It works by setting up a custom room name, so you better make it a long one with a diverse set of characters to make sure no unwanted guests drop in. Once the room is set up, you can chat and send files and photos to a group of friends with the assurance that no one — not even the Cryptocat team — can read your messages. Everything is encrypted before it leaves your computer and then decrypted when it reaches your friend(s), so end-to-end security is maintained.

3. Silent Text (iOS, Android)

Silent Text is a part of a larger subscription program under Silent Circle. Consumers can subscribe to a service that provides encrypted talk, text, and contact storage. For as little as $12.95 a month, users can call and text with other Silent Circle members with the assurance that their conversations are encrypted end-to-end.

Like all these other apps, the service works through calling and texting with your data plan, rather than over SMS.

4. TextSecure (Android)

Messages are encrypted locally, so if your phone is lost or stolen, all your texts will be safe (so long as you have a strong passphrase protecting them). The code is also open source, which means the community can audit the app and make sure there’s no suspicious activity by the developers or others who would wish to see your messages.

The only issue is this app is connected to your phone number, so it may not be known what you’re saying. But who you are and who you’re sending messages to is known. However, the Whisper Systems development team is working on supporting texting through Orbot (Tor proxy). It is also working on an iOS solution.

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