How to . . . keep your messages private

Keep the CIA – and other snoopers – from hacking into your messages

WhatsApp: it’s end-to-end encrypted, so no one can gain access to your messages unless they are the intended recipient. Photograph: Andrew Gombert/EPA

WhatsApp: it’s end-to-end encrypted, so no one can gain access to your messages unless they are the intended recipient. Photograph: Andrew Gombert/EPA

 

You might have picked up on some of the news during the week about the CIA and its ability to hack into messaging apps. While most of us probably aren’t CIA targets, keeping prying eyes out of our messages is always a good move – particularly when you think about what we divulge over messaging services.

The first step to keeping your messages private, no matter what app you are using, is to disable previews on the lock screen. On iOS, go to Settings>Notifications>Messages and scroll down to Show Previews. You can choose Always, When Unlocked or Off. Turning them off will disable previews on the native messaging app.

On Android, go to Settings>Lock Screen and Security >Notifications on Lock Screen and turn messages to off.

iMessage

The good thing about iMessage is that you can get your messages on all your devices. The bad thing about iMessage is that you can get all your messages on all your devices.

So while it’s sometimes convenient to pick up your iMessages on your iPad, if the device is shared, anyone could see them.

The good thing is that you have to enable iMessage on each device, it’s not done by default, and you’ll get a notification your other devices to say that a new device is using iMessage. But if you don’t want to have your messages popping up everywhere, you can easily disable it too.

If you have the device in your possession, you can go to Settings>iMessage> and turn off iMessage. That will stop iMessage from being delivered to that device. If someone switches it back on you’ll get a notification on your other devices again, so it is easily fixed.

You can also choose what addresses iMessage delivers to on each device. Go to Settings>iMessage and scroll down to Send & Receive. You can add and remove email addresses and phone numbers through that menu, but you’ll have to do it on each device on which you are using iMessage.

You can also remotely deregister iMessage if you no longer have a SIM card for that number through Apple’s support website. https://selfsolve.apple.com/deregister-imessage/

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, which means no one can gain access to your messages unless they are the intended recipient. That excludes the possibility that someone will have access to your phone remotely through malware, which is what the Vault 7 documents indicated.

You can disable message previews to stop your message contents flashing up on screen. In the App, go to Settings>Notifications and disable Show Preview.

But you might want to go a step further than that. WhatsApp also has two-factor authentication, which allows you to set a code that WhatsApp will periodically ask for to prevent unauthorised access to your account.

It will also ask for the code when you are registering your number with WhatsApp again. Go to Account>Two Step Verification to enable the security feature and choose your code. You can also choose an email address to help you reset the code should you forget it – preferably an address not linked to your smartphone, if you’re being really security conscious.

Signal

Signal is an encrypted messaging and one-on-one calling app. On iOS it’s a standalone app, but Android users can set it as their default messaging application for unencrypted messages as well as private messages.

To kill off message previews, open Signal and go to Settings>Notifications. From there you can set how background notifications behave. You can show the sender name and message, name only or no information at all.

There are a few other things to look at. Go to Settings>Privacy> and slide Require Approval on Change to on. That will force you to approve any communication with someone who has recently reinstalled Signal, or otherwise changed their safety number.

The same menu also allows to you to prevent any message previews from appearing on the app switcher, and to clear your message history in two clicks.

Telegram

Telegram is tied to your phone number, and has some useful features such as secret chats to keep important things private.

Telegram also allows you to set a passcode to prevent unauthorised access to your account. Forget the passcode, though, and you’ll lose all access to your secret chats, so choose something you’ll remember. To keep your account from being set up on another phone without your knowledge, you can can enable two-step verification. Both of these security features can be accessed through Settings>Privacy and Security within Telegram.

Confide

Not only is Confide end-to-end encrypted, but messages are read line by line as you drag your finger down the screen to show a line at a time. Messages cannot be saved or forwarded, and once they’re read, they self-destruct. That’s just the free option. The subscription version, which costs €7.49 a month (or cheaper if you pay for a year upfront) will add features such as the ability to recall a message before it has been read – useful – and use themes and stickers.

Confide Basic will do for most people. For iOS users, you can also use functions such as Siri to create messages, or send and receive Confide messages through the iMessage app. The messages will behave the same way as any Confide message, with self-destruct intact, but won’t appear in the Confide app.

Within the settings on Confide, you can turn off Sent Message History, which removes the context of your conversation. That can be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, if someone manages to get through your security code or Touch ID lock, they won’t be able to see the full context of your conversation; on the other, you could very easily lose the thread of the conversation without it.

Viber

Viber rolled out end-to-end encryption for messages a while back, but it also has the ability to hide chats. It only works on smartphones, not on the Viber desktop app, and once it’s enabled, it will hide the chat from your public list. You set a pin code that must be entered to access the hidden chats.

To hide a chat, open Viber and go to the chats screen. Find the chat you want to hide, then swipe left on it to bring up the Hide option. If you haven’t set a passcode, you’ll be prompted to set one. This is also how you’ll find your hidden chats, by entering the pin into the search bar.

You can also disable message previews by going to Settings>Notification and turning off Show Preview.