15 best secure and encrypted messaging apps to use in 2021

Last updated by   Ruheni Mathenge
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Worried about a third-party snooping on your conversations or information? We feature the best secure messaging apps for iOS, Android, and the web to enable you to protect your privacy.

Internet-based instant messaging apps have simplified communications globally. However, these new methods also raise security and privacy concerns. Your conversations could potentially be accessed by the companies behind the apps, hackers, or even government agencies. However, you can easily protect yourself from such threats by using secure messaging apps.

In essence, a reliable and secure messaging application offers end-to-end encryption for users’ communication. This facility prohibits third parties from seeing the messages, leaving them visible to you and the recipient only.

In this guide, you will find some of the best messaging apps for privacy available in the market.

Don’t be overwhelmed with the long list, as you will also learn about how to choose a messaging application for yourself and much more. So you can easily decide which app best suits your privacy needs.

Top encrypted messaging apps quick list: In-page navigation

  1. Signal – the most secure messaging app for individual users, robust end-to-end encryption by default, open-source code.
  2. Telegram – a bold messaging platform popular among privacy freaks for its resilience to government surveillance, optional end-to-end encryption with server-client encryption by default.
  3. Dust – offers self-deleting messaging after being read, allows unsending messages, stealth search, breach alerts.
  4. Wickr – an open-source platform with regular audits, alerts users upon taking screenshots.
  5. Apple iMessage – offers end-to-end encryption for communication between iMessage users, support self-destructing messages.
  6. Viber – a user-friendly app with catchy interface, offers limited end-to-end encryption, supports self-destructing messages.
  7. Threema – open-source app offering E2EE, doesn’t require a phone number for account registration.
  8. Silence – open-source SMS/MMS app compatible with multiple devices, doesn’t require internet connection.
  9. Wire – open-source platform, independently audited, requires email for account registration, paid app.
  10. Mattermost – open-source messaging app particularly aimed at business users, compatible with all major platforms.
  11. Line – free, feature-rich instant messaging apps supporting desktops and mobile devices, offers end-to-end encryption by default for all users.
  12. Snapchat – privacy-savvy app for sharing images and videos securely, offers self-destruct feature.
  13. Voxer – free app supporting walkie-talkie like communication with almost-instant delivery of voice and video messages, also supports text chats., works over both cellular and WiFi network.
  14. CoverMe – feature-rich, free secure messaging app offering e2ee by default, hides phone numbers, disguises app icon.
  15. Pryvate Now – free to use end-to-end encrypted messaging app, also offers secure file storage and email.

What is encrypted messaging?

secure messaging apps
(123RF)

In simple words, it is a messaging method that involves end-to-end encryption (shortened as E2EE). 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. Instead, their servers merely facilitate the smooth transition of data between you and the recipient without storing anything on their part. In this way, they not only respect your privacy but also save you from indirect impact in case the servers suffer a breach.

Despite being important, sadly, encrypted communication has caught attention only recently. Thus, many popular communication platforms of today either lack it or offer it as an optional feature. Some of the apps lagging include Facebook (optional encryption), Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Skype (optional encryption), Google Hangouts, etc.

Related: Most Secure Email Providers

What makes a messaging app secure?

A messaging app is more than just an 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 choosing a secure messaging app for you.

End-to-end encryption

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 only you and the receiver can read them. It protects unwarranted or unnecessary data exposure to others, ensuring that only the relevant parties 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.

Open-source code

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 and fix errors, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities.

Default encryption settings

An app can offer end-to-end encryption but not as the default feature. 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 right after download. However, that’s not the case with most apps. Therefore, ensure the app has set the encryption as default.

Besides, it’s always better to go through the settings first and enable encryption before using the app.

Data collection

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 for both Android and iOS devices.

Messaging apps to avoid

WhatsApp

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. While it was established in 2009 as a standalone app, its popularity exploded when Facebook acquired it in 2014.

Currently, it is the most popular messaging app, with over 2 billion users. The app also enjoyed the top position among the best free secure messaging apps until recently.

However, the latest updates to its privacy policy and terms of service have caused a buzz worldwide. The messaging app notified its users about changes in its privacy policy on January 8, 2021. Failure to do so would potentially lead to an account cancelation.

The announcement of the controversial changes has reignited the privacy and free speech debate. WhatsApp has tried to explain that the changes intend 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 WhatsApp to its rivals such as Telegram and Signal.

What is the new WhatsApp privacy policy?

Recently, WhatsApp sent a notification to all users for a change in the privacy policy and terms of service. The changes give the company the rights to share your information with Facebook and other apps.

Initially, data sharing was optional, but these new terms make it mandatory. Experts indicate that the company is trying to monetize the messaging app.

Why are the privacy policy changes raising concerns?

Many people have raised concerns with the changes as Facebook has a reputation for mismanaging user data. Privacy activists questioning the ‘accept the new terms or get out’ approach and call on users to migrate to more secure apps such as Signal.

Google Hangouts

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 on 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

So you now know what to look at in an app if you wish to protect your messages from imposters and other malicious actors. Also, you are aware of the apps to avoid if you value your texting privacy.

But the question is, which messaging apps should you use to protect your personal, business, and other sensitive conversations?

Check out the 15 most secure messaging apps (finalized after thorough research and tests) available today right below.

1. Signal

Signal Messaging App for Privacy

Signal isn’t a new name; however, it received a lot of attention after the recent WhatsApp privacy policy changes.

Previously, it was the preferred communication medium for activists, hackers, and other people concerned with their privacy. But, since its inception in 2014, it has recently gone mainstream and is becoming a method of choice for most people.

Basically, Signal is a free 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 start using it. The app 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:

End-to-end encryption

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.

In fact, Signal’s end-to-end encryption is so strong that it even powers E2EE in many other platforms like WhatsApp, Skype, and more.

Besides messages, it also encrypts group messages, voice calls, and video calls.

Self-destroying messages

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. This allows independent audits, which helps identify errors and vulnerabilities, keeping the app’s security up-to-date.

Password protection

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.

2. Telegram

Telegram

Telegram has been growing steadily since its establishment in 2013 to become a popular messaging app. It has now surpassed 500 million monthly active users, according to recent reports.

The app is generally 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 isn’t enabled by default, so you will have to activate it manually.

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.

Key features:

  • AES 256-bit End-to-end encryption
  • Open source code
  • Photo and video editing tools
  • Unlimited message and file sharing
  • Two-step verification

3. Dust

Dust instant messages app

Dust is a popular encrypted texting app available on both Android and iOS devices. The app sends secure messages (or videos and photos) to your recipient, which disappears after reading.

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.

Key features:

  • Deletes messages after 24hours
  • Option to un-send messages
  • Detects and notifies you when someone takes a screenshot
  • Highly-encrypted conversations
  • Unlimited group chats

4. Wickr

Wickr app

Wickr messaging app appeared online in 2012 by privacy and security advocates. It offers end-to-end encryption by 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.

Key features:

  • Advanced end-to-end encryption
  • Open source code
  • Overwrites all deleted content
  • Screenshot detection

5. Apple iMessage

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.

It is important to note that end-to-end encryption only works for messages sent between iPhone devices. For example, your message will remain unsecured if you send it to an Android recipient.

iMessage also allows you to set timers for the automatic deletion of messages. 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.

Key features:

  • End-to-end encryption
  • Self-destructing messages
  • Backup through iCloud
  • The built-in image search function

6. Viber

Viber

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 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.

Key features:

  • End-to-end encryption
  • Community with unlimited members
  • Self-destruction feature
  • Sync with multiple devices

7. Threema

Threema

While Threema is not a free encrypted messaging app, it guarantees to keep your conversations safe and secure. It is open-source and assigns a unique ID to the user so you can use the app anonymously. Registering here requires no phone number or email address, but you can link these details to your account if you want.

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.

Key features:

  • Hide confidential conversations
  • Dark and light modes
  • Verify contacts with QR code
  • Create a distribution list
  • Pin chats

8. Silence

Silence

Silence is a secure, multifaceted, and fast messaging app. It is basically an SMS messaging app supporting text and MMS messages. The app surfaced online after the developers forked from Signal to continue supporting end-to-end encryption for SMS/MMS communication.

Since it’s a text chatting app, it doesn’t require an internet connection; instead, it relies on your cellular carrier (GSM). Hence, you can easily replace your regular messaging app with this one to protect your SMS messages too.

The app uses Signal’s end-to-end encryption to protect your messages. It doesn’t involve its servers for data transfer, and hence, stores nothing about you. That means no one else except you and the recipient has access to the messages.

On top of that, it has an open-source code that anyone can audit.

However, to take advantage of this app, both the sender and receiver devices must have the Silence app installed. Also, it is only available for Android and not for iOS.

Key features:

  • No server or internet required
  • Open source code
  • Axolotl encryption
  • No data logging

9. Wire

Wire Encrypted Messaging Application

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. This is a better approach than compelling 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.

This app is more suitable for business users to protect sensitive communications among colleagues. While it’s a paid app, it comes with affordable pricing plans that even suit small businesses.

Key features:

  • End-to-end encryption
  • Open source code independently audited
  • Secure file sharing
  • Option to use multiple accounts
  • Support video and voice calls

10. Mattermost

Mattermost application

Mattermost is a secure and robust messaging app that offers excellent flexibility.

Started in 2015, the app basically emerged as an open-source alternative to Microsoft Teams and Slack for business users. It also offers integration with other popular business software suites such as Atlassian.

You can use the platform through a mobile or desktop app. It is also one of the few messaging platforms that also support Linux, along with the conventional Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS support.

After subscription and download (it’s a freemium app), 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.

Key features:

  • Secure one-on-one and group chat
  • Encrypted file sharing
  • Maintain separate cycles
  • Connect in-house

11. Line

Line

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 need 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. In addition, you will be pleased with the timeline feature that functions similarly to Twitter and Facebook.

Key features:

  • Photo editor
  • Organize groups of up 200 people
  •  Auto-sync on several devices
  • Free video and voice calls
  • Quick poll feature

12. Snapchat

Snapchat

Snapchat is a popular app for sending and sharing photos and videos. Here, the recipient only gets 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. After that, 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.  

Key features:

  • The app does not backup data
  • Messages are automatically wiped after 24hours
  • Free cloud storage
  • Customizable security settings
  • Does not use third-party servers

13. Voxer

Voxer secure messaging app

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.

For security, the app applies TLS/SSL encryption for usual communication. Moreover, it also offers an optional end-to-end encryption feature via “Private Chats.” The app works on both cellular (2G, 3G, 4G, EDGE, LTE) and internet (WiFi) technology. In brief, it ensures you always remain connected to your contacts wherever you are.

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 a camera button if you want to send a picture. It works with Android, iPhone, and the web.

Key features:

  • End-to-end encryption
  • Voice chat feature
  • Hide texts from your notification bar
  • Extremely easy to use

14. CoverMe

Coverme Private Messaging

CoverMe is another reputable free 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.

Precisely, CoverMe works over WiFi to send SMS and make calls. Hence, all you need is stable internet connectivity to stay online. However, it doesn’t typically require 3G or 4G; rather, you can also use it over EDGE.

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.

Key features:

  • Private vault
  • Self-destructing messages
  • Burner numbers to text and call privately
  • End-to-end encryption

15. Pryvate Now

Pryvate Now

Regardless of your device, you can start to chat securely with Pryvate — available for Android and iOS users. Established in 2013, this messaging app takes your privacy very seriously.

The company does not even have access to any of your conversations. Besides, there is no ‘middleman,’ all the messages remain 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 recipient.

The app also offers a self-destruct feature to delete the sent messages automatically after the recipient reads them.

Key features:

  • 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. Hence, the best way to protect your personal information is to use a virtual private network (VPN).

Precisely, a VPN encrypts your online traffic and even scrambles your IP address so no one can see your data and activities. This also secures you from all the services, including the messaging apps, aiming to collect your metadata.

So, to ensure your conversations remain typically private and safe from snoopers, here are the best VPNs for messaging apps that you can use.

NordVPN

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 5,200 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.

Pros:

  • Super-fast connections
  • Privacy protection
  • Does not keep logs

Cons:

  • Relatively fewer locations

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is another great VPN for chatting apps. It is a secure and powerful tool to remain safe when texting and making calls online.

Some of the messaging apps reviewed above are not available in all countries. With a global network of over 3000 servers distributed in over 94 countries, ExpressVPN gives you 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. Also, 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 having its headquarters in a privacy-friendly region.

Pros:

  • Excellent connection protocol
  • Across device compatibility
  • 24/7 customer support

Cons:

  •  Slightly costly than competitors

Surfshark

Surfshark is a budget-friendly VPN for messaging apps bearing unique security features.

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.

Also, Surfshark supports unlimited simultaneous connections, allowing you to protect all of your devices.

It uses AES 256-bit encryption, MultiHop mode, kill switch, split tunneling, and DNS leak protection to safeguard your traffic. Besides, the provider follows a strict zero-logs policy, so your information will remain private.

Pros:

  • Fast enough for lag-free video calls
  • Comprehensive security and privacy features
  • Unlimited connections

Cons:

  • Some distant servers exhibit slow speeds

Bottom line

In today’s digital world, online privacy and security matter the most. 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 in the market currently, all claiming to be secure. But you should always look for the most important features, such as end-to-end encryption, self-destruct, and open-source code, to be present in an app before picking up one randomly.

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)

What are secret chats, and how are they different?
What is the most private texting app?
What is the most important thing to consider when looking for a secure messaging app?
Can I be traced when using an anonymous messaging app?
What is the best way to hide my messages?
Why should I hide my messages?
Why is end-to-end encryption important in a secure messaging app?
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About the author

Ruheni Mathenge
Ruheni Mathenge

Tech researcher and writer with a passion for cybersecurity. Alex is a strong advocate of digital freedom and online privacy.

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