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Are your online chats secure?

The importance of security and privacy in our messages communication is greater than it has ever been
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This is even more important when you are in a shared wi-fi environment, such as a co-working space or a coffee shop, where many people are online and sharing the same connection. While we, of course, want to trust those around us, it’s fair to also take reasonable precautions around our sensitive communication in case there is someone with less than ideal intentions in the room and on the wifi we are on.  

We are communicating constantly, usually one or two sentences as a time quite casually

And often sharing sensitive information with friends and family in a relaxed fashion hoping we don’t become the victims of electronic theft.

I still have to lecture some of my less tech savvy friends when they send me their complete login information via email or Skype, that that isn’t the best idea anymore. While I understand the efficiency they are going for, we live in a time when it’s simply no longer acceptable not to have best practices around all our messages, even if it’s just a quick seemingly harmless login for a website.

As time goes on, I would hope that even the largest messaging services will inherently become as secure as possible, but at present, many of them are not as secure as they should be. So I decided to write a post about what I consider to be the most important elements to take into account as your messages fly back and forth.


Three things to look for to be sure your chat app is secure:

What do I mean when I say your chat app is secure? While there are any technical threads on Quora and other discussion sites where you can find engineers explaining the granular essences of messaging security, I feel  it comes down to these three parameters being met:

1. Is your message encrypted in transit?

When you send your message, is it sent in a form between your account and the receivers account that cannot be read. It should only be able to be read once it’s received by the person it’s addressed to, not by a device that gets it in between.

2. Can you be sure that only you and the person you are sending your messages to can open it?

Encryption in transit is great, but only truly secure if you know that someone who grabs your message before it gets to your intended recipient can’t un-encrypt it, open it and take a peek. The main culprit I can think of here is a service provider wanting to analyze your messages to learn about your habits and personality. While this may not qualify as ‘hacking’, I think it’s safe to assume you don’t want the service provider reading your message. I like the idea of knowing only the person I send messages to can open it. 

3. Can you verify that the person you think you are chatting with is in fact who they say they are, and confirm that encryption is working between your devices?

For truly secure data, it’s important to know that the person you think you are chatting with is in fact also running a secure device.

Think of a spy movie scene where they switch to the secure line, and then say “Ok, we’re secure, go ahead”. You can and should do this with your communication as well if it’s really private. The best chat app’s will provide a functionality to do this.

These three things combines cover the bases that matter most to me. It means my messages are secure, and equally importantly, it means the chat app service I am using isn’t using me as information they can sell.

The most secure apps of today are Signal, Viber, and What’s App – all offering levels of the above mentioned features. Less secure options are Skype, Facebook Messenger, and G-Chat. For additional security while on shared wifi, consider paying for a VPN service, like PureVPN, or Zen VPN.

Happy, and secure, chatting!

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