Text messaging is one of the more common means of communication since cell phones came about. It is pretty straightforward – you send messages to a phone number and your cellular network and your recipient’s network will transmit it so the recipient receives the messages. A short messaging service (SMS) is simple enough to use and convenient too. But is it really secure?
Security technologist Micah Lee says that with normal SMS text messaging, you have very little privacy because it’s not encrypted. This would also mean that it is not advisable to send a text about sensitive data or private messages because text messaging is not exactly secure.
What Is Encrypted Messaging?
It all boils down to whether messages could be accessed by anyone other than the sender and recipient. Encrypted messaging, therefore, is what makes for secure messaging.
Encryption is nothing new. Simple encryption has been used in wars as well as in grade school “secret messaging”. Encryption is when you encode information in such a way that no one will be able to view it other than the intended recipient. Of course, the encryption used today for private and/or secure messaging is much more complicated.
On this end, text messaging is pretty archaic. It may be secure from your phone to your cellular network but outside that, messages become vulnerable. They may be read and even changed by those who intercept them. This is also why using text messages for two-factor authentication is not advisable.
Does this mean you should stop text messaging? Of course not. Despite its shortcomings when it comes to encryption, text messaging remains a useful communication tool in terms of sending plain-text messages.
What Are The More Secure Messaging Options?
There are several other ways to ensure security and privacy in your messages – from built-in phone or operating system features to popular apps and messaging platforms. The privacy that operating systems and messaging apps offer varies.
Android & iOS Messaging
Google has also recently announced that Android users using Android Messages will eventually be enjoying messaging or chats that are end-to-end encrypted by default. Text messages sent via iPhone are also encrypted which is not surprising since Apple has always been vocal about the importance of encryption. This is evident in the company’s services, particularly Apple’s iMessage. Apple also says that text messages stored on iCloud will be encrypted as long as the user opts for two-factor authentication sign-in. Encryption on iPhones, however, only works if both users have iPhones.
Facebook Messenger, arguably one of the most popular messaging apps, does not support sending encrypted messages by default. This means that both users have to turn on the “Secret Conversation” feature to encrypt messages.
Third-Party Messaging Apps
Several messaging apps offer message encryption. Perhaps the most popular one is WhatsApp which catapulted by highlighting the privacy it offers its users through end-to-end encryption. Facebook has since acquired WhatsApp and has access to your metadata, determining who you spoke to and when.
Another noteworthy messaging service is Signal. It is a cross-platform messaging app that offers end-to-end encryption and a host of other security features. Signal has also been open source for years allowing cryptographers to poke around for flaws- this is one of the reasons it stands out as a secure messaging app. Like Apple’s iMessage though, the encryption only works for Signal-to-Signal communication.
It is important to remember that these messaging apps used as alternatives to classic text messaging are still not 100% fool-proof. Also, note that your privacy is ultimately your responsibility. For instance, no matter how good your message encryption is, if you don’t secure your device and someone sees any sensitive data, all precautionary measures will be in vain.
Text messaging is not entirely secure in that messages may be easily intercepted. The various messaging apps and platforms could certainly help in keeping your messages more private and secure. Of course, not all apps and platforms are created equal. Opt for the more secure ones, particularly those that offer end-to-end encryption if you’re dealing with sensitive data and information. To be fair, both text messaging and the more secure messaging platforms may still be monitored through text spy apps.