In executive protection, the transmission of messages can either make or break any assignment for security practitioners and principals alike. Therefore, this article examines the pros and cons of some of the most secure messaging apps in 2023 — and beyond!
Protectors share sensitive information, discuss business, or do other significant things all the time. That implies they need to be able to do so without a third party watching them or surveilling their transfer of data.
The same applies to their protectees, whether they are the primary principal, entourage, or personal assistants. In light of countless security breaches, it becomes even more paramount to secure communications between everybody who has access to vital information, including routes, schedules, and plans.
To that effect, this in-depth guide will help you better decide on choosing the most secure messaging apps in 2023. In fact, we will judge each as per the following criteria:
- ease of use, customization, and ubiquitousness,
- basic and advanced features,
- free or paid plans, and
- trust of users and data breaches.
Over the years, messaging apps have expanded to include features like sharing images, documents, texts, contact information, and conferencing. We wouldn’t dare to speculate what’s to come, but we can only hope it will include more remarkable and sought-after features — as well as a more secure environment.
Overview: Most Secure Messaging Apps in 2023
Most of the apps we are about to present are open source, which means that they are subject to the community’s interventions and inspection.
At any rate, when you download the next app, you should ask yourself the following: Who runs the app? Startups or big corporations? Do they depend on donations and funding?
The answer to these questions will tell you a lot about the possible intentions of the people behind the curtains. Ultimately, what you want to get is that only the sender and recipient can see the message and not anyone else in between. But more on that later!
Without further ado, let’s jump to talking about the most secure messaging apps in 2023 and beyond!
Number of users: 1,3 billion
Apple’s instant messaging service functions exclusively on the company’s platforms, including macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and watchOS. Android and other users will find this discouraging. The reason? In regions like Europe, Android is the operating system for around 70 percent of European mobile phones.
On a more positive note, one of the first apps to introduce a fantastic feature, iMessage allows its users to decide how long a message can stay in a chat and how many times the recipient would be able to view the message. It may seem odd at first, but this is one of the best security-related arguments for the app, which appears to focus heavily on privacy.
Since it’s been around for more than a decade, the app boasts powerful features in terms of design and ease of use, making sharing stickers, emojis, GIFs, and other media seamless. In addition, it has no paid plans, meaning it’s free for use.
However, Apple is the key controller. In other words, if it comes under attack by hackers, the messages contained in iMessage could be quickly revealed. Thus, cloud backup options are not the strong suit of this security-focused app.
Number of users: tens of thousands
Perhaps most relevant for EP companies, Silent Circle is an app tailored to the needs of high-profile individuals. In our context, these are the principals and their family members. In fact, it allows its users to make and receive calls from landline and mobile numbers, which could come in handy during security assignments in Africa or Latin America.
Expectedly, the app has end-to-end encryption capabilities, where encryption keys are held by subscribers themselves — not the company. Similarly, Silent Circle uses a feature called “burn timers” to automatically edit messages after a customizable period.
Interestingly, it enables multiple calls at once through a segment they call conference manager. Perhaps one of the most exciting capabilities is that it lets you know when your messages are delivered and when the recipients read them. On a different note, it is available on iOS, Android, and on the company’s Blackphone.
As for their paywall, Silent Circle requires USD10 per month per user. Another downside is the fact that you can’t send Desktop messages, but only use the mobile version.
Number of users: 12 million
Wickr finds itself among the most praised on our list of the most secure messaging apps in 2023. It’s an app that utilizes Perfect Forward Secrecy with the support of Two-Factor Authentication. They don’t ask you for a phone number, email address, or other personal details during registration.
Unlike many of its competitors, users and security experts consider it more of a collaboration tool rather than a private chat messaging application. In fact, it allows you to share
- locations, and
- online statuses, among other things.
And even if it comes under attack by hackers, Wickr servers cannot leak user communications. In fact, the app owners claim they are “undecipherable in transit and deleted upon delivery.”
Another positive aspect of the app is that it is available for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and Linux users.
On the other side of the coin, Wickr is a costly app with silver, gold, and platinum plans, depending on your needs and team size. However, the basic, free version allows for up to 30 users and 30 days of data retention, which might be enough for some EP teams.
Number of users: 2 billion
Predominant among the most secure messaging apps in 2023, WhatsApp has the ability to make disappearing chats the user’s default. With end-to-end encrypted backups, it can even transfer your chat history from iPhone to Android. With plenty of unique features, it is still one of the most ubiquitous ways for people looking to send and receive messages securely.
In addition, it’s available on the web and desktop, and it can run on Android and iPhone operating systems. All this makes it likely for users to choose it, especially when people from one end of the world cooperate with others who don’t have the same operating system or device.
Disappointingly, WhatsApp requires your phone number during registration. Also, Facebook owns it, which sounds daunting when we consider the 2021 security breach when hackers stole data on 533 million of the platform’s users.
But things weren’t always this gloomy. In fact, Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014. After the purchase, the famous social media owners promised they wouldn’t monetize the app. However, they reneged, making WhatsApp founders leave and co-found another of the most secure messaging apps in 2023 — Signal.
Number of users: tens of thousands
Among the pioneers of encrypted SMS messaging, Silence is an app that is trying to do something many have avoided. It’s an open-source Android app that uses the Axolotl encryption protocol and applies it to telephone-based SMS. Although Signal tried to build SMS/MMS secure messaging in 2015, the company abandoned its efforts as it thought it wouldn’t be able to deliver on its promise in full.
On that note, Silence works as any other standard text messaging app. It allows you to send text messages to your contact through SMS, with the option to send encrypted SMS messages to other Silence users. In fact, founders claim that users don’t require any servers or internet connection.
Worryingly, however, the app seems to be last updated in 2018 on the Google Play store, with no iOS app in sight. In addition, many have complained about its outdated look.
Number of users: more than 100 thousand
Probably the only one with this option on our list of the most secure messaging apps in 2023, the Dust app has a built-in stealth search tool for maintaining privacy when you search the web.
Another cool feature is that it notifies you as soon as somebody takes a screenshot. As a bonus, data breach alerts sound as soon as the app suspects something’s off.
With end-to-end encryption, Dust is set not to display user names in messages, while one contested feature is that it has no chat history.
Reminding users of apps like Snapchat, messages on Dust disappear within 100 seconds after being read and within 24 hours if the recipients don’t read them.
In any case, it is available on Android, iOS, and Windows platforms, with many reviews claiming that the interface seems impressive.
Number of users: tens of thousands
Like other apps, Voxer uses Signal’s protocol to make its encryption safe and sound. However, it focuses heavily on voice messages, which makes it a kind of walkie-talkie or push-to-talk device. Thanks to voice-to-text capabilities and group chats with up to 500 team contacts or individuals, it certainly seems impressive.
Nevertheless, unlike a typical walkie-talkie, you can hear messages as people speak or listen later when it’s suitable for you. We can already see the application for this among celebrity protection and corporate security teams. For example, during music concerns, conference room meetings, or at embus/debus.
Although it’s free to use, premium subscriptions unlock several features, including
- admin controls for group chats,
- unlimited message history, and
- hands-free walkie-talkie mode.
At any rate, it’s worth checking out due to its simplicity and ease of use. Also, it’s available on iPhone, Android, and the web.
Number of users: 12 million
With a unique Threema ID key and the NaCl cryptography library, the company assures its users they can use the app anonymously — with no names. In fact, you don’t need to disclose your email address or phone number for it to work.
Another plus is that it’s available on the web, Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, and Android. Many other most secure messaging apps in 2023 lack this altogether!
Equally important, the app owners claim that “No work is outsourced. Our dedicated support staff ensures consistent high quality and fast response times.” At face value, this seems like a big deal, and it is to a certain degree because most don’t offer this option.
Yet, apart from that, it has few advanced features and offers a single paid plan, requiring USD4 for the app to work.
Unlike Threema for individuals, the Threema Work version offers more capabilities as part of expensive paid plans.
Another downside to the app is that it hasn’t caught on in English-speaking regions worldwide. So unless you speak German, you will probably have difficulty finding other users. (It was developed in Switzerland, hence the priority given to the German language.)
Number of users: 10 million
For starters, Skred doesn’t require your phone number or email address, and no subscription is necessary. In fact, app owners claim that there is no operator, no SIM card, and no tracking involved in the registration process.
Expectedly, it allows you to exchange data types, such as images, text, sound, music, video — and even software. Unlike some of the other apps that require excellent bandwidth, Skred adapts to any network, guaranteeing speed and transmission quality.
Want to know if your friends are on Skred? Well, the app doesn’t use your phone contacts to detect if your friends use the application. As a matter of fact, they made this feat difficult in the sense that you can only invite people to join Skred by having them scan a QR code from your app in person or by sending them the code through another messaging service.
Offering peer-to-peer and crypted communications, Skred is based on the free, open, and secure technology that goes by the name of WebRTC.
However, users have complained about countless bugs and the lack of a group call feature for some time.
Number of users: 700 million
Known for its countless fortes, Telegram is probably one of the oldest secure messaging apps around. Avowedly uncontested with its chat feature of up to 200,000 members, the company is proud of its numerous achievements and receptiveness to public input.
Telegram hosts a hacking challenge when hackers attempt to decipher messages and break their encryption. During the happening, the USD300,000 reward attracts dozens of hackers. This event serves to reveal any potential vulnerabilities, after which the developers work on fixing them.
Further, the app is available on all the major platforms:
- Microsoft Windows,
- macOS, and on
- the web.
However, Telegram became infamous at one point when security experts discovered that ISIS terror groups used it. Eventually, one report warned of “a growing cyber threat where hackers use Telegram as a command and control system.”
Number of users: 105 million
The app that won the most online contests over the years, Signal is the app whose end-to-end encryption protocol was made available to many others on the list of our most secure messaging apps in 2023. In fact, it has become known as the poster boy among the safest applications.
For one, Signal requires no special login credentials or PIN codes unless you decide to create one. It was also among the first to introduce self-destructing messages in 2016, allowing you to change phone numbers while keeping Signal account data intact. They say they are working to fix this issue and become even more privacy-focused.
Besides a beautiful user experience, the app has improved in many ways over the years. For example, instead of collecting them, Signal stores all your pictures, files, and messages locally, on your phone.
Interestingly, both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp use Signal’s encryption protocol. This information can tell you a lot about how powerful it is in comparison to other most secure messaging apps in 2023.
Compared to other apps, like Telegram, it only allows a minuscule number of participants in group video chats, up to 40. Another con for Signal is that users need a phone number to sign up, which isn’t the case with many apps in this article.
Number of users: 820 million
Developed by the Japanese multinational company Rakuten, Viber is one of the most ubiquitous and user-friendly apps worldwide. It enables you to send texts, pictures, and video messages, as well as make free calls. In addition, Viber is renowned for creating groups and communities with up to 250 people. In fact, you can call up to 20 people at once.
On the security side, it offers encrypted video and voice chats on major desktop operating systems and mobile devices. Needless to say, Viber is upholding the new industry standard and is secured by end-to-end encryption.
Interestingly enough, every chat within the app is color-coded depending on its level of encryption:
- Green suggests the conversation is encrypted, and the contact you are connected to is trusted.
- Grey indicates the chat is encrypted, but the contact has not been marked as trusted.
- Red suggests there is a problem authenticating the contact.
On the negative side of things, Viber calls don’t have any option for call blocking, unlike others on our list of the most secure messaging apps in 2023. Simply put, you cannot block random or unknown callers. When it comes to using Viber on older versions of the mobile communications standard (3G), the app offers reduced service quality.
How to Choose the Most Secure Messaging Apps in 2023
In an endless sea of apps, choosing the most secure and smooth-working one pays dividends!
In executive protection, safe and seamless communication is everything. So whether you are trying to plan your next security assignment or talking to the principal or their personal assistant to prepare for a trip, you want everything kept right there — between the two, three, or more of you.
If something slips through the cracks and becomes available to the paparazzi or threat actors, it could backfire on the executive protection team and the protectees. As a matter of fact, it could result in dire consequences, including embarrassment, harassment, injury, or death.
Remember the old days as an EP agent with brick/flip phones and printed-out paper maps? If I remember correctly, one of the first Messenger services I used was Yahoo messenger. We have come a long way since!
Smartphone penetration hit over 82% of the US population in 2021.
During the pandemic, usage of messenger platforms like WhatsApp grew by over 40%. However, the rapid growth brought along concerns about security and privacy.
Most “secure” messenger apps have become more business-focused than user-focused by exploiting users and their information for corporate gains. Sometimes without consent. When we message on a centralized platform, we are at the mercy of the corporations’ policies.
Secure messaging as we know it is about to be revolutionized by Blockchain technology. A wave of new blockchain-based messaging apps will soon emerge. Blockchain brings permissionless, trustless, and open-source technology that will eliminate the legacy problems currently seen in messaging applications. As we recently saw with WhatsApp’s E2EE being bypassed from back-up storage on Cloud servers.
Blockchain technology will provide a secure infrastructure for messenger platforms. Everything on the blockchain is encrypted, and the data stored on it cannot be altered. Essentially hack-proof systems with no third-party access.
Blockchain will provide decentralized communication services that will transform users into owners through token-based access and non-custodial anonymous wallets.
Soon the days of using Signal and Telegram are coming to an end, and messengers like TokLok will be the next round of “real” secure communication.
— Martin Nielsen, Head of Executive Protection
In this article, we tried to explore the pros and cons of the most secure messaging apps in 2023. We don’t want to vilify or recommend any, as EP practitioners and teams will have to find the best fit for themselves, depending on the size and needs of the particular detail.
As a rule of thumb, we recommend using apps with the following features:
- Self-destructing messages,
- End-to-end encryption,
- Ease of use and ubiquitousness, and
- No data collection policy.
Ultimately, we urge you to look at alternatives and perhaps even pick paid plans, as it could mean that a company has a vested interest in protecting your data. In fact, they could become liable if something does become revealed to somebody outside the conversation.
Whether you are with your principal in Australia’s outback, in Africa’s cities plagued by erratic driving and armed gangs, or in the suburbs of Latin America, you don’t want anybody listening in on your plans and schedules.
A final word of advice: Invest some time to establish what you need and pick the right app now instead of staying with whatever default options you have built-in!