The best encrypted messaging apps can help protect your privacy as they make it difficult for anyone to eavesdrop on your private chats including (in most cases) the companies behind them.
Many of the best encrypted messaging apps are so heavily encrypted that even government agencies and police can’t break into them. End-to-End encryption, which is used by Signal, Threema, WhatsApp and others, means that only the sender and recipient of a message can see its contents.
Apple’s iMessage protocol uses end-to-end encryption as well but its Messages app which is used to view encrypted messages also handles unencrypted SMS text messages. This makes it easy to get confused which is why you’re better off using one of the best encrypted messaging apps instead if you want to ensure that all of your chats are secure. It's worth noting that Google's Messages app can also use end-to-end encryption but both people need to have RCS chats turned on.
These are the best encrypted messaging apps available right now for Android and iOS.
The best encrypted messaging apps you can download today
Signal is a fantastic messaging solution for security-conscious mobile users. It's a free all-in-one messaging, voice-call and group-chat solution that uses its own end-to-end encryption protocol.
You can send text messages, voice calls, group messages, media and attachments to your phone contacts, all without having to mess with PIN codes or special login credentials. Updates to the app have added user-friendly features such as custom wallpapers and animated stickers, and Signal group video chats can now have up to 40 participants.
All Signal messages can be set to self-destruct after a certain amount of time while a Chrome browser plugin lets you use Signal from your desktop as well. You can transfer Signal accounts from one Android phone to another and from one iOS device to another. In fact, you can even change phone numbers while keeping Signal account data as long as you're staying on the same device.
Signal's encryption protocol is so strong that WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger use it too. But unlike Facebook, Signal's parent company is a non-profit foundation created by an anarchist cryptographer and one of the founders of WhatsApp.
Ease of use and strong, open-source, regularly audited encryption makes Signal a favorite of the security-conscious, with accolades from Edward Snowden and other privacy advocates. User-friendliness without compromising on security makes Signal a fantastic option for users looking for an encrypted messaging and calling app. Here's our guide on how to use Signal.
Like Signal and WhatsApp, Telegram lets users link their phone number to a Telegram account to send fast, encrypted messaging over the internet, with client-server encryption for standard chats.
But Telegram is much more than just a messaging service. It has grown into a worldwide social-media platform, with huge user groups and broadcasts that let accounts reach millions of followers in an instant. It has uses far beyond secure messaging.
However, end-to-end encryption is not enabled by default on Telegram. To get it, you'll have to switch to Secret Chat mode. You can set messages to self-destruct, share videos and documents and participate in group chats of up to 200,000 users. (Yes, Telegram really does support group chats that large.) However, chats with more than two participants won't be end-to-end encrypted.
A caveat? Telegram uses its own custom MTProto encryption rather than a more proven system. Here's our guide on how to use Telegram.
The world's most popular stand-alone chat and call app, WhatsApp has used Signal's end-to-end encryption protocol on all messages since 2016.
Its developers are continuously adding tweaks to the app's security and privacy features, such as fine-tuned group invitations and controls so that you're always aware who is reading your group chats.
The app is also testing transfers of chat history when switching between iOS and Android phones and using a single account on four different devices at once. Updates to WhatsApp have made it possible to have end-to-end-encrypted backups and have added the ability to make disappearing chats the default. You can also transfer your chat history from iPhone to Android, and the iOS beta suggests an Android-to-iPhone transfer feature is coming soon.
In 2014, WhatsApp was bought by Facebook, which later broke its promise that it wouldn't "monetize" the service which led its founders to leave and one of them co-founded Signal. Some WhatsApp user behavioral data is now shared with Facebook, which has created more demand for WhatsApp alternatives, but the messages remain entirely walled-off.
No matter who owns it, WhatsApp remains one of the easiest ways for anyone to use end-to-end encrypted messaging. If you're not comfortable with Facebook's presence, there are plenty of other options on this page.
Users who want to be absolutely sure about their security can verify each chat's 60-digit security-verification code or QR code that you can compare with a contact to ensure that your conversation is encrypted. You'll also want to make sure your messages are backed up with WhatsApp itself and not with Apple's iCloud.
Combined with WhatsApp's ubiquity, ease of use and the ability to send voice messages, photos, and video messages, and conduct group chats, makes for a robust and fully encrypted mobile-messaging app.
Threema is a very secure end-to-end encrypted messaging app that uses the NaCl cryptography library to protect your communications.
When you fire up the app, it generates a unique Threema ID key, allowing you to use the app completely anonymously — no names required. Otherwise, you can associate your account with an email address or phone number, which makes it easier for other Threema users to find you.
You'll also get a scannable QR code that you can present to other Threema users if you meet in person but don't want to exchange names.
In addition to the usual raft of messaging features such as encrypted text, voice, picture, and video messaging, the app also includes file sharing (20MB per file), emojis, group messaging and a polling system for getting feedback from friends and contacts.
While some other secure-messaging apps that haven't reached WhatsApp or Telegram adoption levels have pivoted toward the enterprise market to stay afloat, Threema still has one foot planted firmly in the consumer market. Charging a few bucks for the app makes that financially possible.
So what's the downside? Threema hasn't really caught on in the English-speaking world, so you may have a hard time finding other users unless you speak German. But its impeccable security is well worth spending $4 for.
Wire features end-to-end encryption for instant messages, voice and video calls, with support for GIFs, audio and video clips, and sketches, and local and Dropbox file sharing. The app also offers multiplatform cross-device syncing and support for multiple accounts, allowing you to separate personal and work communications.
Wire uses its own Proteus encryption protocol based on the Signal protocol, and its code is open-source and subject to external security audits. The mobile and web versions of the app are free, with a premium tier available for businesses.
The parent company, Wire Swiss, was originally founded and run out of Switzerland which is famous for its privacy laws. The holding company moved to the United States in 2019, which alarmed some users, but then moved to Berlin in early 2021.
Like Silent Circle and Wickr, the company seems to have retooled its website to appeal primarily to business users. But you can still get Wire's free consumer desktop software from the "Download" link at the bottom of the site's main page, and its mobile apps on the Play Store or App Store.
Viber offers end-to-end encryption on all platforms. Originally developed in Israel, the app is now owned and operated by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten. It offers many of the same bells and whistles as Telegram, including stickers and communities, and, most recently, augmented-reality filters to jazz up selfies.
A neat feature for Viber is a color-coded lock icon to quickly show users how protected a conversation is (gray for encrypted communications, green for encrypted communications with a trusted contact, and red in the event that there is an issue with the authentication key). Viber has self-destructing Secret Chats, included in group chats and on its desktop app, plus a Hidden Chats feature for hiding chatrooms on a shared device.
All of this is in addition to Viber's solid mobile-messaging feature set which includes text, voice, and group messaging all tied to your phone number. The app and communications with other Viber users are free, but you'll have to pay a bit for calls to non-Viber users.
The near-ubiquitous Facebook Messenger may not be the first app you think of when it comes to encrypted messaging, but the mobile versions of the app include end-to-end encrypted communication options in the form of Secret Conversations.
Based on the same encryption system used in Signal, Secret Conversations requires users to opt into the feature. It allows them to send and receive encrypted text, pictures, and stickers to and from a single mobile device, with the option for time-limited self-destructing messages like with Snapchat.
More recently, Messenger has added options for end-to-end encryption of one-to-one voice and video calls and for end-to-end encryption of group chats, calls and video chats.
That said, Facebook Messenger is still vulnerable to being screen-grabbed, and the opt-in and single-device limitations can be an issue. Also, it's Facebook.
Dust, formerly Cyber Dust, throws in multiple security and encryption features in an attempt to maintain user privacy.
The app uses a combination of AES-128 and RSA-2048 encryption to secure posts and messages, and it’s also designed to keep direct messages in RAM as much as possible, rather than in your phone's permanent storage. Messages can be set to self-destruct within 24 hours or right after being read.
Dust is also designed to not display user names in a message and informs you if a screenshot is taken from within the app. In addition to the secure messenger, Dust also packs in a privacy-watchdog feature and a stealth search tool for maintaining privacy while searching the web.
That said, it appears the Dust app is being maintained rather than actively developed, with no major features introduced since mid-2020 but we'll keep an eye on this.
Do you need an encrypted messaging app?
Although regular messaging apps have certainly improved over the years, none of them can match the added security and peace of mind that comes with using one of the best encrypted messaging apps.
Unlike with SMS and MMS messages that can be seen by third parties, with an encrypted messaging app, only the intended recipients can read your messages. This is because the apps detailed above use encryption to prevent others from reading your messages as they don’t have the encryption key needed to decrypt them.
Whether you’re discussing sensitive personal information, business or anything else you want to keep private, using an encrypted messaging app will prevent your communications from being intercepted.
It’s up to you to decide if you really need one but with the number of online threats and other dangers present in the world today, it makes sense to have the added protection for your messages available from one of the best encrypted messaging apps.