These reviews are focusing on messengers which you can easily use on your cellphone. Whilst some messengers offer much more security and privacy than others, your communications on your cellphone can never be 100pct secure due to other systems functioning on your device.
For us, the perfect solution would be a fully decentralized system. There is Bitmessenger and TOX, both of which work very well on Windows, Mac and Linux. TOX is a great solution when you do most of your business on a desktop or laptop and it does have an earlier Android beta version if you want communication more than just on your PC. But its ease of use and lack of mobility let it down. Bitmessenger appears outdated and lacks development .
There is one more decentralized solution called Bleep which is from the makers of Bittorrent. It performs well on a Mac and a little better on Windows. It works on iOS and Android but unfortunately the android app doesn't work on BB10, so no luck for BlackBerry users. The biggest problem with Bleep is that the push notifications are not really reliable and sometimes it takes days until you get an actual notification. Of course you could leave the application open or check back on it manually. But again it's not the messenger you'd like to recommend to your grandmother or rely upon for your daily chats with all of your friends. The next big issue is that it's not open source. Yes, Bleep is from Bittorrent which should give it some credibility, but it has never been audited nor has it released any source code. So we take their word for it. The whisper feature is pretty cool and if Bleep works, it is really a good and secure solution. However, it just lacks basic features in which I am a great believer. I really think that sites like Ello (yes, we all switched over to it for 24 hours) lost out to Facebook because of the comfortable ease of use of FB.
Despite the problem with the push notifications, Bleep is still a good decentralized app for chat only and remains a privacy tool well worth looking at.
If it's just about getting an easy communication tool, and you want privacy, security, plus a few features, there are some great solutions which you can use on a daily basis and it will be more likely that your family and friends will switch over too. They are not decentralized but still great. We will make an in-depth review one app at a time within the next few days. In the race are Threema, BBM Protected, Telegram, WhatsApp and Signal.
There are other messengers which also claim to be secure and private such as Surespot, Wickr, Hoccer, Gliph, Silent Circle, Sicher and OTR solution ChatSecure but we've picked those we have used personally and feel comfortable about reviewing. We might review the above messengers at a later date, but for now we stick with the ones we have test driven for a while.
Let's start with the weakest two of all, Telegram and WhatsApp. When it comes down to privacy, it's a close call between these two as both are at the bottom end of the scale. WhatsApp is a little better in protecting your conversations but it is also good at tracking your every move.
Telegram has one tool which claims the chat is end to end encrypted. This sounds great, but we need to take the word of the creators of Telegram as no source code is released for this part. The standard Telegram chat is saved on Telegram's own servers! Unencrypted, and in Plain Text! This is as freaky as it gets! Read this again! Unencrypted and in Plain Text. The beauty for law enforcement and spy agencies is that there is no need to do a man in the middle attack as there is nothing encrypted to be found. Well, it's not entirely true, they have a SSL encryption. But still the texts are in Plain Text on their servers so a spying eye just needs to access the cloud. To make this even worse, users sign up with their telephone numbers! This gives the spying eye not just your chats, but your telephone number, your friends, and your friend's telephone numbers. It is pretty much the last app you want to use for secure communications! If you want fun, the groups, the stickers (oh, we love the stickers) and the usability between Mac, PC, Linux, Android, iOS and Blackberry, then Telegram is fantastic. There is no better app which has such a wide and well performing cross platform!
If you have "nothing to hide" feel free to send me your address and a copy of your house key! Nah, what I am just trying to say, Plain Text is pretty bad!
For fun, we give Telegram 10 out of 10. For privacy, absolutely zero!
WhatsApp! It is one of those apps which has become so amazingly huge. It's easy to use, people get comfortable with it, and it's owned by Facebook. Now that sounds exciting, doesn't it? It also has your telephone number as your username and comes pre-installed on some phones! This makes it an easy sell for your grandmother to use. It also tracks your location, your contacts and listens to your microphone.
Just a couple of thousand times this week alone without your permission. It has all the features you can wish for and it even has encryption. The guys from Signal helped out with this part. This sounds good, if it wasn't for the simple fact that the encryption is not forced. It is supposed to be encrypted, but WhatsApp can drop or remove the encryption as they please or if their servers are overloaded. The user would not know on their end if the chat is encrypted or not. WhatsApp is easy to use but your telephone number is again in plain sight and you never know if and when you are encrypted. The source code is also not available for verification. It is pretty bad about the microphone access and reading your contacts without your permission. WhatsApp is one of the first apps I will remove from a new phone (the second app for removal if Facebook is pre-installed). WhatsApp is not something we can recommend during this review.
Once we have finished all of the reviews, we will find out which is the most outstanding by comparing all of the messengers against each other. The King of Communication will soon be revealed.
Part 2: A review of Signal from Open Whisper Systems