The “P” word has been bandied about like there’s no tomorrow this past month. First we had a slugfest involving the FBI and Apple. Next, our King of Good Times was allegedly interviewed over encrypted email, which resulted in a Twitter fight. And just as we thought we’ve had enough, everybody’s favourite chat app decided to go coy.
If you’ve lost me, my apologies. But the “P” word essentially stands for privacy and what we’re talking about are private ways of communicating, with no one watching over your shoulder. And no sir, it ain’t BBM.
WhatsApp has launched end-to-end encryption for all voice messages and calls; this basically means that only the sender and the intended recipient can read the messages and it can’t be accessed by even the chat service. However, this isn’t the only free encrypted chat or email program around. A look at a few such chat and email programs:
The app, which supports secure calls, instant messaging and sharing of attachments, has a storied history. Even Edward Snowden has reportedly endorsed this app. This app is available for both Android and iOS.
Installation is fairly simple after the phone number is verified. But you need a stable internet connection or else your device might not get registered. After registration, the app offers to become the default messaging app as well. One can also set up a password for the app and this writer was unable to take any screen shots while the app was on; seems it blocks any attempt.
One can also decide on what kind of data passes through the Wi-Fi or mobile network, depending on which network is more secure. The only issue is it tends to slow down stuff.
Pros: Encrypts both chats and calls; available for both Android and iOS
Cons: Both users need to have the app installed to use end-to-end encryption; app tends to slow down services
This is a secure email program which was recently in the news when The Sunday Guardian claimed beleaguered liquor baron Vijay Mallya had responded to its queries from one such account; Mally denied ever giving such an interview.
Signing up for a free account is fairly easy but sometimes one needs to request an invite; this writer was lucky enough to sign up without one. First, one needs to set up a password for the account and then one more password which would decrypt the mailbox. Next, one can download the app for Android or iOS.
The interface is fairly simple and looks like the Gmail inbox of yore. Also, a free account gets you a 500MB inbox, one email address and a limit of sending 150 messages per day. The service’s servers are based in Switzerland and since your mailbox is encrypted, no one can access your data.
Pros: Simple, clean interface; apps for iOS and Android; encrypted mailbox
Cons: Free account has limitations
Available for iOS and the PC, the chat client on the PC looks like a stripped-down version of Yahoo! Messenger. After setting up an account, this writer was instructed to add his device to the trusted list and then add buddys. Basically, while adding a buddy, the digital fingerprint of each device is verified and once that is done, secure chats and transfer of files can take place within the closed group.
Another claimed feature is that if a system is hacked into later, previous messages can’t be read, a claim this writer couldn’t independently verify.
Pros: Extremely secure apps; hackers can’t get access to previous data
Cons: Cumbersome process to add buddies; can only communicate within Cryptocat group
Available for Android and iOS, the best thing about this app is that the user doesn’t need to create a separate account with your email or phone number; just create a username and password and then share the link with your friends to connect. Of course your friends, too, would need to download the app.
But make sure you never lose the password; if you do, you’re locked out of your account and data with no workarounds. The other advantage is you can set up multiple aliases on the same device. And you can back up on your Google Drive; but without the password, you can’t restore the chats. Voice messaging is also available.
Pros: No need to share phone number or email; multiple IDs on same device
Cons: No way to recover password; communications only between Surespot users
This is another secured email programme, which allows even non-Tutanota users to respond to encrypted emails. What happens is, a Tutanota user can send an encrypted email to a non-Tutanota one, who then gets to decrypt the message using a password both have agreed on in advance.
Signup is fairly simple with apps available for both Android and iOS. A free account gets one 1GB of space but no aliases. One can also save the password on a trusted device or not encrypt mails if one chooses not to; but why would you? The program’s servers are based in Germany. The interface is clean with lots of options available.
Pros: Easy to sign up; clean interface with several options
Cons: Ability to turn off encryption and save passwords on trusted devices
Besides the above programs, other honourable mentions would be GData SecureChat, Wickr, Telegram and ChatSecure, which have various other specialised functions such as self-destructing messages (SecureChat and Telegram) and chatting with up to 200 users (Telegram). Among paid software, options from Silent Circle are the ones this writer liked, after using them extensively on Vertu phones.