What is Encrypted Messaging and How Does it Work?

Share Article

Here's a detailed guide on encrypted messaging and how it works to keep your conversations secure!

If you’re like most people nowadays, you probably use some form of messaging app, be it WhatsApp, Signal, or even Facebook Messenger.

Whether you’re using a messaging service on Android or iPhone to have group chats with friends or to send important text messages to colleagues, there’s no doubt about it – it’s a popular way to communicate. 

And with the rise of instant messaging, a key concern is keeping your private conversations just that – private. This is where encrypted messaging comes in. 

You might hear the term thrown around a lot, but what exactly does it actually mean? Encryption is a mysterious term for some people, but as more and more people begin to rely heavily on the Internet for communication, encryption is becoming more commonplace.

In this blog post, we’re going to delve into encrypted messaging and how it works to keep your conversations secure.

Hacker attack and data breach, information concept

What Are Encrypted Messages?

So what exactly is encryption? 

Essentially, it is the process of converting plaintext data (simple speak –  data that is readable by humans) into ciphertext data (data that can’t be read unless you have a secret key). 

Encrypted messages are messages that are unreadable to anybody who doesn’t have a key to decipher them – in essence, they are “locked.”

So why would you need to encrypt messages?

There are a few reasons.

For one, it’s important to note that, even with the best security measures in place, data breaches happen, and they happen a lot.

If you encrypt your messages, it will be extremely difficult for unauthorized people to read them – even if they do manage to find their way into unscrupulous hands.

There are two main types of encryption, which we’ll break down for you below. 

1. Private Key Encryption

Also known as symmetric encryption, private encryption uses one secret key to encrypt and decrypt messages.

This is the same secret key for both encryption and decryption, and the key, as you might expect, needs to be kept secret from anyone you don’t want to be able to read the messages. 

2. Public Key Encryption

Public key encryption, on the other hand, uses two different keys. There is both a public key and a private key that are used to encrypt the messages and encrypt the messages.

The public key is shared with everyone and used for encryption, while the private key is kept by the recipient and used to decrypt the messages.

Public key encryption is simpler and more commonly used, especially for online communication, like what you’d find in email and secure messaging apps. 

How Does End-to-End Encryption in Messages Work? 

We’ve given you an example of how encryption works above, but you may be curious about how it works in practice. Here are some examples of message encryption for private messages. 

First, understand how conventional messaging services work so you recognize the security risks. When you send a message over the Internet, it goes through several servers before it reaches the intended recipients. 

Each of these servers, unfortunately, can potentially access and read your message. That means that your private information is vulnerable to a security breach.

This is where end-to-end encryption comes in. When you send an encrypted message, it is encrypted on your device, and only the intended receiver can decrypt it. 

Encrypted messaging apps play a significant role in end-to-end encryption. Apps like Signal and WhatsApp use end-to-end encryption by default, meaning all messages sent through the apps are encrypted automatically.

They’re using a process known as “forward secrecy,” which generates a new key for each message. If a hacker intercepts one message, that doesn’t mean they can use it to access other messages that are then sent between the sender and receiver. 

Encryption Protocol Example

Say Alice wants to send a secret message to Bob without it getting into the hands of hackers. Alice types her message into an encryption program that utilizes public key encryption.

It then generates a random series of numbers used as an encryption message – the symmetric key. The program encrypts the message using that symmetric key, then the symmetric key is encrypted using Bob’s public key.

Only Bob, who has this private key and is the intended recipient, can decrypt the symmetric key, and be able to read the message.

Of course, encryption is not foolproof. There are always individuals trying to hack into systems and uncover information.

Even the most robust encryption can be cracked if an attacker is persistent enough. There’s always a balance between the strength of the encryption and how easy it is to use. 

If you’re an individual sending casual messages, basic public key encryption may be enough, but if you’re a government, law enforcement agency, or corporation sending text or SMS messages in which privacy is key, you may want to use something more advanced that can withstand persistent attacks and protect your secret chats. 

When Should I Use an Encrypted Messaging App?

So now that you know how encrypted messaging works in-depth, you might be wondering whether it’s something you should be using for your communications, too. 

The short answer – probably, but not definitely.

Essentially, you should use an encrypted messaging app whenever you’re sharing sensitive information that you don’t want anyone else to see.

That might be financial data, personal information like social security numbers or credit card information, or anything else that could compromise your safety or privacy. 

Some common instances when it is wise to use an encrypted messaging app are when you’re sending passwords to accounts, discussing confidential details with clients, or sharing medical information with your doctor.

Remember, encryption isn’t just for high-level CIA communications or private chats with your doctor. If you want to discuss confidential or private matters with a friend or colleague, an encrypted messaging app can provide peace of mind. 

Encrypted apps like Signal and Telegram offer features like disappearing messages and end-to-end encryption that protect your conversations from hackers, governments, and other prying eyes.

And sometimes, you just want to have a private conversation with your friends or family without posting it publicly on social media.

Encrypted messaging apps allow you to have private conversations without fear of screenshots and sharing. This helps you to avoid the drama and gossip that often come with social media.

Basically, if you have personal data to send, encryption is the way to go. 

What Are the Best Encrypted Messaging Systems and Features?

So now that you know how encryption keys work and why you should use them for your messages and video calls, what are the best encrypted messaging apps? Let’s take a closer look. 

1. WhatsApp

WhatsApp is an app that has end-to-end encryption, so its messages can’t be intercepted during transmission.

The app is owned by Facebook, so there have been some concerns about privacy with WhatsApp since Facebook has suffered massive data breaches in the past.

2. Apple iMessage

Within Apple’s ecosystem, iMessage has the best security since it offers end-to-end encryption. iMessage is only available for Apple devices, and users can send messages (text, multimedia and other files) without worrying about data leaks. 

iMessage also offers sensitive content control, which means that users can choose to blur images or indicate a message as sensitive before sending.

3. Signal

The Signal app is well-known for its excellent privacy features.

End-to-end encryption is applied to all messages sent on the platform, and no message is stored on Signal’s servers once it’s delivered to the intended recipient. 

The platform also offers secure voice calls and video calls, and users can also send a self-destructive disappearing message. It is worth noting that the Signal app is open-source, which means that anyone can review and analyze its code for vulnerabilities.

Woman hand holding iPhone X with social networking service Telegram on the screen

4. Telegram

Telegram is a popular messaging app available for Android and iOS devices. The app enables users to send messages, files, and documents that self-destruct after a specific time. 

Telegram offers end-to-end encryption, but it’s essential to note that it’s only applied to “secret chats” between two users, which means that messages sent on group chats aren’t encrypted.

5. Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger has end-to-end encryption available, but the option is only available for users in the “Secret Conversation” mode. 

Again, Facebook is known for its data breaches and questionable data policies, and therefore users need to be cautious when using it.

6. Threema

Threema is a paid app and doesn’t require any of your personal information, such as your phone number or email address to sign up.

Instead, it generates a unique ID that you share with your contacts. All messages are end-to-end encrypted, so even the developers can’t read them. You can also make audio and video calls with the same level of encryption.

7. Wickr

Wickr is a popular encrypted messaging app available for Android and iOS devices.

The app uses advanced encryption methods to protect users’ messages and files and is also open source, increasing its level of trust among users. Wickr enables users to send self-destructing messages, voice and video calls, and users can also select to notify them when screenshotted.

8. Sekur

Last but not least is Sekur. A relatively new player in the market, Sekur is quickly gaining popularity. It provides end-to-end encryption for all messages, voice calls, and video calls. 

With a premium plan you’ll get access to features like an encrypted calendar, 100 GB of email storage, self-destructing emails, and more. There’s no data mining, and since this is a Swiss-based service, you don’t have to worry about security when you’re sending messages.

What to Look for in Encryption Systems

If you’ve ever had the uncanny feeling that someone is looking over your shoulder as you type in your passwords and sensitive information, you can be assured that the feeling is not totally unfounded. Cyberattacks and data breaches are on the rise, so it’s smart to keep yourself protected. 

If you’re looking for a new encryption system to use, the apps above are good choices – but knowing what makes them top picks is helpful as you navigate this tricky landscape. 

Here are a few things to look out for.

1. Operating Systems

Encryption systems are not created equal. Some work better on certain operating systems than others. 

For example, AES encryption is an industry standard that works well on almost every device with hardware acceleration, made even better on iOS devices with its built-in hardware acceleration. 

On the other hand, BitLocker, Microsoft’s encryption tool, works better on Windows operating systems. 

Therefore, one of the main factors to consider when choosing an encryption system is compatibility with your operating system. Always make sure that you pick an encryption system that works best with your device.

2. Wifi Security

Did you know that information sent through public Wi-Fi networks is susceptible to being intercepted by unauthorized third parties? 

Look for encryption systems that offer VPN capabilities, like OpenVPN, when using public Wi-Fi. Encryption systems that support VPNs can help you secure your data transportation between your device and the VPN’s server. This ensures that your messages and data are not intercepted by anyone else.

3. Encryption Algorithm

The strength of the encryption algorithm is critical to the level of security offered by the encryption system. AES is the most effective encryption algorithm in the market today, offering top-notch security for encrypted data. 

Keep in mind that the stronger an algorithm is, the slower the encryption system will be. Encryption systems that use AES are usually the best option, with key sizes varying from 128-bit to 256-bit.

4. Open Source vs. Closed Source

Open-source encryption systems offer transparency in their algorithms, enabling anyone to look into how they operate and spot any vulnerabilities. 

On the other hand, closed-source systems do not allow their clients to see how they encrypt their data, making it harder to spot any issues. 

Although open-source encryption systems may seem like the best choice, it’s essential to understand that having the code open for anyone to access makes them more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Therefore, there is no winner between the two, only varying levels of encryption solutions that suit your data security needs.

5. Unencrypted Backups

Encryption systems do not protect backups unless explicitly designed for that purpose. 

Therefore, consider implementing an encryption system that encrypts your backups automatically. This guarantees that your data is constantly secured, even when an unencrypted backup is created by mistake.

You’re In Control of Your Emails – Starting Today

Whether you’re checking emails on your Mac, on your Android devices, or anywhere else, it’s important to be aware of who has access to them.

As you now know after reading this post, it’s not always clear-cut. More people might be reading your chats than you think! That’s where encrypted messaging comes in. 

Cybersecurity is more important now than it has ever been before. If you’re looking for a new way to protect your communications, you may want to consider Sekur.

Sekur is the best messaging service to help you regain your privacy. It’s not owned by any big tech platform or funded by any government. 

With military-grade encryption, Sekur can help you regain – and keep – your privacy for good. 

You might also like