Signal is a messaging service that has gained a lot of traction among privacy enthusiasts in recent years. It is a cross-platform app that is available for both Android and iOS, with desktop support for Windows, macOS and Linux.
It looks and works like most messaging apps, so it’s easy to get started with, and it can also handle your SMS so you don’t have to use a separate app. It supports voice and video calls and allows you to share pictures, videos, or documents in your conversations.
The Signal Protocol
On the privacy and security front, as long as both parties are communicating with the app, all messages will be end-to-end encrypted so that the contents of every chat remain private and unable to be viewed by anyone else. Calls made through the app are also encrypted so that no one can listen in.
This end-to-end encryption is achieved using the Signal protocol which is an open encryption algorithm created for instant messaging applications. It was developed by Open Whisper Systems, the non-profit company that maintains the messaging app itself.
This encryption protocol is being used not only on Signal messenger but also on other chat apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Google Allo to provide secure end-to-end encryption for your conversations.
Why Switch to Signal?
You might be wondering what makes switching to Signal worthwhile since other messaging apps that you may already use have adopted the same protocol for encrypting your conversations.
The key thing to remember here is that the companies behind these other chat applications (Facebook and Google) are only interested in collecting information about you to sell you ads. This is evidenced by the fact that Facebook Messenger and Google Allo do not enable end-to-end encryption for your conversations by default.
You actually need to opt in to this using “Secret conversations” on Messenger and “Incognito mode” in Allo, and you need to remember to do so for each conversation you participate in.
WhatsApp does enable end-to-end encryption by default which ensures that your conversations remain private, but the Facebook-owned messaging app can still extract and store metadata around your activity within the app.
These activity records can include the identity of who you’re talking to and how often, device-specific information (such as your IP Address or phone model) and the phone numbers of all your contacts.
Signal, on the other hand, does not retain any of your private data except the phone number you registered with and when you last logged into their servers. It doesn’t even record the hour or minute of your last activity – only the day.
Signal also provides some good in-app settings that improves the security of the app. First, you get “Disappearing messages” which is helpful if you want messages to disappear forever once they have been read. You have the option to force messages to self-destruct after they are read five seconds all the way up to one week.
You also have the option to lock the app with a passphrase so that anyone using your phone cannot snoop on your conversations. Signal allows you to prevent screenshots from being taken within the app. Although there’s nothing preventing the use of another phone taking a picture, this makes it harder to capture conversations.
In addition, the code used to power Signal is fully open-sourced on GitHub which means it can be audited and analysed by security experts to ascertain that it remains as secure as intended.
This is in stark contrast to apps like WhatsApp, Messenger and Allo which are all proprietary and owned by companies whose only interest is to collect your data and use it to serve you more relevant ads.
Will you switch to Signal?
Signal clearly wins on the security front when compared to other popular messaging apps like WhatsApp or Messenger. It may not offer fancy features such as stickers, statuses or animoji, but in a world of constant surveillance, it provides an increasingly important service that should not be taken for granted.
That said, getting all your friends and family to switch to it all at once is extremely unlikely, and what good is a messaging app if no one you know uses it?
Nonetheless, it may still be worth it to switch to it and try to convince your close pals to do the same so you can have more secure and private conversations henceforth.
Will you be making the switch to Signal? Have you had success in convincing your friends and family to do the same? Let us know in the comments section below.