15 best secure and encrypted messaging apps to use in 2021
Internet-based instant messaging apps have made communication around the world easy. However, these new methods of communicating and connecting raise security and privacy concerns. Your conversations could potentially be accessed by the company behind the app, hackers, or even government agencies.
One of the easiest ways to protect your messages is to use an encrypted messaging app. A reliable application should have end-to-end encryption to prohibit third parties from seeing the messages except you and the recipient.
In this guide, we have compiled some of the most reputable secure messaging apps available, factors to consider when choosing a messaging application, and much more.
Top encrypted messaging apps quick list: In-page navigation
What is encrypted messaging?
It is a messaging method that involves end-to-end encryption. It allows only the sender and the receiver to decipher and read the message.
Encrypted texting apps do not collect or store any messages on their servers to keep you completely private. Some of the most popular messaging apps without E2E encryption include Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google Hangouts, etc.
Related: Most Secure Email Providers
What makes a messaging app secure?
A messaging app is more than just the array of emojis and cool widgets. It should have features to make your conversations safe and private. Here are some of the most important things you should consider when looking for a secure messaging app.
Perhaps the first thing you should look out for in a secure messaging app is end-to-end encryption. This is a way of scrambling the messages such that it is only you and the receiver who will read them. It ensures that only the parties involved can decipher the information.
Initially, encryption was used by big businesses and government agencies to protect sensitive data. It was also used by people with a high need for secrecy, like activists and politicians. However, after Edward Snowden leaked information on NSA’s surveillance program, encryption became widespread.
Revealing an app’s source code may seem illogical due to issues such as code backdoors and reverse-engineering. However, putting the code out in the open is regarded as a show of integrity and transparency.
An open-source code has a positive impact on the development and quality of the messaging app. This is because it is easy to identify errors, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities.
Default encryption settings
An app can have end-to-end encryption, but it is not the default setting. It means you will have to go to the settings and activate the encryption feature manually. Other apps encrypt only some messages and not all.
Since encryption is a comparatively new concept, many people assume the messaging app is safe to use. Therefore, ensure the app has set the encryption as default.
Most texting apps have started adopting end-to-end encryption. However, some of them are still gathering users’ metadata.
That is like your electronic fingerprint with all of your information, including who you talk to, how long, what time, IP address, phone number, and more. Using a VPN on your device is an excellent way to prevent the collection of your personal data. A reliable VPN like ExpressVPN is available on both Android and iOS devices.
Messaging apps to avoid
WhatsApp is a free Facebook-owned instant messaging app. It only requires you to have an internet connection to send encrypted text messages, voice calls, and videos worldwide. The app was established in 2009, but its popularity exploded when Facebook acquired it in 2014.
Currently, it is the most popular messaging app, with over 2 billion users. The app was among the best free secure messaging apps as we entered in 2021.
The announcement of the controversial changes has reignited the privacy and free speech debate. WhatsApp has tried to explain that the changes are intended to help it integrate better with its sister company Facebook. However, privacy advocates and technology experts have raised concerns about the changes.
There are even reports of a mass exodus from the messaging to its rivals such as Telegram and Signal.
Initially, data sharing was optional, but these new terms make it mandatory. Experts indicate that the company is trying to monetize the messaging app.
Many people have raised concerns with the changes as Facebook has a reputation for mismanaging user data. Privacy activists are questioning the ‘accept the new terms or get out’ approach and calling on users to migrate to more secure apps such as Signal and Telegram.
Although it is free on Android and iOS devices, there are some privacy and security concerns with Google hangouts. It does not have end-to-end encryption but instead uses encryption in transit. This means the encryption only works between your device and Google servers.
The company has complete access to your data once it is in its servers. It can tap into your private conversations and even submit it to government agencies if ordered to do so. This is a real concern as Google has admitted that it receives and fulfills customer data requests in its Transparency report.
Furthermore, the images you send on the platform are shared through public URLs. This means anyone with access to the URL can see your private messages.
Top secure messaging apps to use in 2021
Do you now know what to look at in an app if you wish to protect your messages from imposters and other malicious actors? Also, the apps to avoid if you value your texting privacy?
Check out the 15 most secure messaging apps we finalized (after thorough research and tests) available today right below.
It has recently gone mainstream and is becoming a method of choice for most people.
So, what is Signal application? This is a free and privacy-friendly messaging app that you can use on your Android and iOS devices and through your desktop.
You only need to provide your phone number to get started. It allows you to text and voice or video call one-on-one or in groups. Just like other messaging apps, you can use stickers and emoji reactions.
Is Signal secure? Here are its main security features:
If you send a message through the Signal app, only you and the receiver will view it. No one else can intercept your conversations, not even the app. Besides messages, it also encrypts group messages, voice calls, and video calls.
The app allows you to make both received and sent messages automatically disappear after a set amount of time. This is just an extra security feature to keep you safe.
Open source code
Signal’s code is open-source, and anyone can view it. An open-source code allows for independent audits, which helps to identify errors and vulnerabilities. This makes the app’s security to be up-to-date.
Signal also allows you to create a password lock. This will help your messages to remain safe even if your device falls into the wrong hands.
The most impressive thing about Signal is that there are no security risks involved. As long as it remains open-source and the developers continue fixing emerging vulnerabilities, Signal will remain a secure messaging app.
The app is banned in Russia after it refused to submit encryption keys. There are also concerns as the app is viewed as the preferred communication method for ISIS. This has sparked the conversation about messaging apps, maintaining user privacy, and complying with law-enforcement agencies. But the recent reports suggest ISIS and other criminals are not using Telegram but a different app.
Coming back to Telegram, it offers a feature dubbed as ‘Secret Chat’ that will protect your conversations with end-to-end encryption. However, it is not set on default, so you will have to activate it.
You can view your messages on different platforms as the app supports simultaneous data sync over multiple devices. In addition, it does not impose any data limitation so that you can send any media or file, regardless of the size. Your device will not require any disk space because Telegram will store your entire chat history in the clouds.
- AES 256-bit End-to-end encryption
- Open source code
- Photo and video editing tools
- Unlimited message and file sharing
- Two-step verification
It uses high-end encryption even though the code is not open source. Unfortunately, the app does not encrypt video or voice messages but only text and photo messages.
Your messages are not saved on your device or the app’s servers. Instead, the app uses RAM that is incapable of storing any data for a long time. There is also an option to delete your messages on the recipient’s end.
The auto-dust feature ensures that messages are automatically erased after 24 hours. This makes Dust one of the most secure messaging apps if you need to stay anonymous.
- Messages are deleted after 24hours
- Option to un-send messages
- Detects and notifies you when a screenshot is taken
- Highly-encrypted conversations
- Unlimited group chats
Wickr messaging app was founded in 2012 by privacy and security advocates. The end-to-end encryption is set at default to protect your conversations. It has an open-source code, and the company undergoes regular security audits.
The free version Wickr Me is intended for personal use and allows up to 10 users. On the other hand, the paid version of Wickr Pro is for businesses. It supports unlimited users and comes with 30-days money-back guarantee.
One of its impressive features is screenshot detection. You will get a notification if someone tries to take a screenshot of your conversation.
This secret texting app works on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and Chromebook. The app has recently introduced the screen overlay protection feature on Android devices. It allows you to disable ‘screen overlays’ to prevent you from using the app if an overlay is detected. This helps to safeguard the app against threats like TapJacking.
- Advanced end-to-end encryption
- Open source code
- Overwrites all deleted content
- Screenshot detection
5. Apple iMessage
This is a prompt messaging service available only on iOS version 5.0 and above. It allows you to send and receive text, videos, photos, documents, and contact information. The app can be used by iPhone users only and is very popular among them.
It is important to note that end-to-end encryption only works for messages sent between iPhone devices. For example, your message will not be protected if you send it to an Android recipient.
iMessage has a feature that allows you to control the amount of time content will appear before it is automatically deleted. Also, you can select the number of times the recipient can view a message. Unfortunately, this feature is only available on iOS 10 and above.
- End-to-end encryption
- Self-destructing messages
- Backup through iCloud
- The built-in image search function
Viber is a free messaging app that is secure, simple, and fast. According to the latest statistics, it has over 1 billion active users.
The app offers end-to-end encrypted messaging on all devices, including Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS. It also color-codes your conversations based on how secure they are. For example, grey indicates encrypted chats, red shows issues with the authentication key, and green denotes an encrypted communication with a trusted contact.
One of Viber’s most significant limitations is that the end-to-end encryption works only for one-on-one chats. Group chats are not protected.
- End-to-end encryption
- Community with unlimited members
- Self-destruction feature
- Sync with multiple devices
While Threema is not a completely free encrypted messaging app, it guarantees to keep your conversations safe and secure. It is open-source and assigns a unique key so you can use the app anonymously.
The best part about the app is that it encrypts everything from voice calls, messages, files, status messages, and group chats. With Threema’s strong encryption, only the intended recipient can view the content. It is available on Google Play, Apple Store, and works in web browsers, too.
- Hide confidential conversations
- Dark and light modes
- Verify contacts with QR code
- Create a distribution list
- Pin chats
Silence is a secure, multifaceted, and fast messaging app. It is an ideal option for chatting with messages, photos, voice notes, and videos online without spending a cent. On top of that, it has an open-source code that can be audited by anyone.
The app supports all the major operating systems, including Android, Windows, iOS, and macOS. It uses advanced end-to-end encryption on all the apps. This is to ensure no one else except you and the recipient has to access the messages.
Both the sender and receiver devices must be installed with the Silence app to encrypt the conversation. In addition, you will have to manually initiate the encryption by taping the lock icon on the top bar of the app. Click yes on the popup box to send the encrypted message.
- No server or internet required
- Open source code
- Axolotl encryption
- Compatible with all devices
Wire is a well-established suite with secure texting, group chatting, and file sharing. It is entirely open-source, and you can even get it on Github. The app allows you to register with an email address, which is more private. This is a better approach than those that compel you to submit your number.
The app uses end-to-end encryption to protect your chats. Even the company behind the app cannot even see your conversations. The messages are wiped from the company’s servers as soon as they reach the recipient.
All of your data will be stored on your device in an encrypted form. This is a good security measure as your information will remain secure even the company’s servers are compromised.
- End-to-end encryption
- Open source code independently audited
- Secure file sharing
- Option to use multiple accounts
- Support video and voice calls
Mattermost is a secure and robust messaging app that offers excellent flexibility. You use the platform through a mobile or desktop app as well as on a Windows browser extension.
You can start to chart immediately on the clean and minimalist interface. There is also a wide range of DevOps features such as webhooks and slash commands to customize the app. It is also integrated with multiple extensions and plug-ins for more customization.
- Secure one-on-one and group chat
- Encrypted file sharing
- Maintain separate cycles
- Connect in-house
Line is a widely-used secret texting app that offers secure instant messaging, voice over IP calls, and video calls. It was developed in 2011 by Japanese engineers to communicate after the earthquake Tohoku damaged the country’s telecommunication infrastructure. However, it has gained a lot of recognition worldwide and is becoming an ideal alternative to WhatsApp.
Like other popular messaging apps, you will be required to provide your phone number to create an account. The app comes with several features to enhance your interactions. For instance, you can purchase a wide variety of emoticons and stickers through the theme shop. You will be pleased with the timeline feature that functions similarly to Twitter and Facebook.
- Photo editor
- Organize groups of up 200 people
- Auto-sync on several devices
- Free video and voice calls
- Quick poll feature
Snapchat is a popular app for sending and sharing photos and videos. The recipient will only have a short time to view the content before it disappears.
Once you download and install the Snapchat app, you will have to create an account with your email address to get started. You can allow it to connect with your address book to suggest friends that are already using the app. There is also an option to add friends manually.
It allows you to share pictures and videos with anyone and not necessarily your ‘friend’ within the app. On the other hand, you can adjust the privacy setting only to receive content from friends. This will prevent third parties from seeing your snaps.
- The app does not backup data
- Messages are automatically wiped after 24hours
- Free cloud storage
- Customizable security settings
- Does not use third-party servers
Voxer, also known as the walkie talkie messenger, is an excellent app if you are looking for a secure way to send your messages. It will protect your phone number and also allow you to share videos and photos privately.
The first step to start using the app is to create an account. Next, you give it access to your contact list to see if anyone is already on Voxer. You can also invite other people, and the app will send them a link. From there, you can initiate a one-on-one conversation or group chat.
You will notice that the app is effortless to use. Simply tap-and-hold the large button and start speaking and release after you are done. The voice message will be sent in near-real-time, and the recipient will listen as you speak. There is also an option to text and camera button if you want to send a picture. It works with Android, iPhone, and the web.
- End-to-end encryption
- Voice chat feature
- Hide texts from your notification bar
- Extremely easy to use
CoverMe is another reputable messaging app that uses end-to-end encryption. It will safeguard your conversations from unauthorized access. The app is available for free on Apple Store and Google Play Store.
It offers you a burner line with various area codes to mask your real phone number. This will help you to maintain your anonymity when texting or making calls.
The app also offers a private vault for additional security. You can use it to securely store your files, videos, passwords, and photos.
CoverMe gives you full control of the conversations. For example, you can make a message disappear once the recipient has read it. You can also hide your messages by shaking your phone.
- Private vault
- Self-destructing messages
- Burner numbers to text and call privately
- End-to-end encryption
15. Pryvate Now
The company does not even have access to any of your conversations. Besides, there is no ‘middleman,’ and all the messages will be between your device and the recipient’s device.
It uses top-level RSA 4096-bit encryption to protect your conversations. This means no one can access your messages except you and the person you are sending to.
The app also offers a self-destruct feature that allows you to delete the messages you have sent after the recipient has read.
- Unlimited calls and chats
- Self-destruct feature
- Easy to use interface
- Distributed Application portal
- Screenshot notification
VPN and encrypted messages apps ensure the safest instant texting
Although most messaging apps use end-to-end encryption, some can gather your metadata. The best way to protect your personal information is to use a virtual private network (VPN).
It will encrypt your online traffic and even scramble your IP address so no one can see your data and activities.
Here are the best VPNs for messaging apps.
NordVPN is perhaps the best VPN for messaging apps. It offers a great combination of features at an affordable cost.
The VPN has a massive network of more than 5,500 servers in 59 countries. This means you will be able to chat with anyone regardless of their location.
Most NordVPN servers offer reliable and consistent speeds. You can use the Quick Connect feature to connect to the fastest server when making video or voice calls.
It maintains your security and privacy with AES 256-bit encryption, perfect forward secrecy, and OpenVPN protocol. Additional features include an automatic kill switch, DNS leak protection, double VPN, and split tunneling.
The provider does not keep any identifiable data and observes a zero-logs policy. It also supports the cryptocurrency payment method if you’d like to purchase a plan anonymously.
- Super-fast connections
- Privacy protection
- Does not keep logs
- Its servers use hard drive storage
ExpressVPN is another great VPN for chatting apps. It is a secure and powerful service to keep safe when texting and making calls online.
Some of the messaging apps we have reviewed above are not available in all countries. With a global network of 3000 servers distributed in over 94 countries, you will have optimal access to geo-blocked messaging apps.
The servers are super-fast, offering consistent connections. This will come in handy when making voice and video calls. Since the provider does not limit bandwidth or data, you will not experience any buffering or lags.
It protects your data and online activities with multiple state-of-the-art features. They include military-grade AES 256-bit encryption, kill switch, DNS leak protection, and TrustedServer technology. The provider also adheres to a strict no-logs policy and is headquartered in a privacy country.
- Excellent connection protocol
- Across device compatibility
- 24/7 customer support
- Slightly costly than competitors
Surfshark is a budget-friendly VPN for messaging apps. It is packed with unique features, some of which are hard to find anywhere else.
The service has recently expanded its network to more than 3,200 servers in 65 countries. It offers consistent connections and unlimited bandwidth so you can make smooth video calls. Surfshark supports unlimited simultaneous connections, allowing you to protect all of your devices.
It uses AES 256-bit encryption, MultiHop mode (its version of kill switch), and DNS leak protection to safeguard your traffic. The provider follows a strict zero-logs policy, so your information will remain private.
- Fast enough for lag-free video calls
- Comprehensive security and privacy features
- Unlimited connections
- Some servers we tested had slow speeds
Privacy and security matter more than ever before in our digitally connected world. The best way to protect your conversations is to use a secure messaging app. It will encrypt your messages and data for protection from hackers, spies, and other malicious actors.
There are many messaging apps on the market that claim to be secure. The most important features you should look out for include end-to-end encryption, self-destruct, and open-source code.
Besides using secure messaging apps, you should also protect your data with a VPN. It will scramble your internet traffic such that no one can see what you are doing. However, you should avoid free VPNs to be on the safe side.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
About the author
Tech researcher and writer with a passion for cybersecurity. Alex is a strong advocate of digital freedom and online privacy.