Comparative Analysis of the Security and Privacy of Messengers

A modern person uses several instant messengers every day to exchange messages, files, contacts, locations. He or she receives services, news, solves important working tasks. We send a huge amount of confidential data through these instant messaging systems. How much safer is one messenger than the other? Which one protects personal data better? What is the most anonymous messenger? In this review, we will try to answer these questions.

 

Criteria for Security and Privacy of Messengers 

To assess the safety of user data in a particular messenger, we will outline the key criteria for security, privacy, and anonymity below:

End-to-End Encryption 

Support for end-to-end encryption ensures that only you and the recipient can decrypt and read the information. E2E is considered the main attribute of any messenger that positions itself as secure.

Collecting Data and Metadata 

The metadata that each of us generates through our online activities is like a digital fingerprint. Messengers also collect metadata that can describe our personality in great detail. In fact, this is all data in addition to the content of the message itself: for example, with whom from our contact list we talk, for how long, and how often. This is a kind of record of our activity. Information about the device used, IP address, mobile number, etc. may also be collected.

Open Source Code

The open-source instant messaging app enables comprehensive security audits. Amateurs, enthusiasts, experts can examine its work and draw attention to weaknesses, vulnerabilities in both the server and client parts of the code. On the other hand, free access to the code somewhat increases the risk that information about a discovered vulnerability can be used with malicious intent until it is closed or someone else from the community notices it.

Transfer of data to third parties 

Third parties may be intelligence agencies, police, government agencies. The administration of some messengers actively cooperates with third parties, while others fundamentally refuse to reveal personal data.

Peer-to-peer support 

A peer-to-peer connection eliminates the involvement of a third party. Sent messages go directly to the recipient’s device. It is important to note that such a connection freely allows you to see with whom and for how long it has been established, which naturally affects anonymity and reduces the level of confidentiality. You can increase confidentiality with the additional protection of the IP address: use VPN or TOR.

 

Which Secure Messenger Should You Choose?

There is no single messenger that has collected all the privacy and security features we have considered above. An ideal messenger does not exist also because ease of use is equally important (interface, usability, web or desktop version, speed of work). The undisputed leaders in safety and privacy are: 

  • Wickr Me; 
  • Threema; 
  • Signal; 
  • Session.

As for the outsiders, the list will be the following:

  • Microsoft Skype; 
  • Google Messages; 
  • Apple iMessage; 
  • WhatsApp; 
  • Facebook Messenger.

Finally, it is impossible to provide high anonymity without compromising other functions. When choosing a messenger for everyday communication, an ordinary user should optimally combine a reasonable balance between convenience and security.

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