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Secure Messaging: What It Is and How to Use It

February 16, 2017, 3:28 PM UTC

There are two major changes afoot in how in how people send text messages to each other. One, of course, relates to what they’re sending — we now use more pictures, emojis and so on.

But the other major difference lies in the technology we use to text. In the last year, companies that make messaging apps, including Facebook and Apple, are making their apps much more secure than before. This means it is much harder for someone else, like a hacker or government agent, to intercept your messages.

The new security features are the result of encryption technology, which scrambles the content of the messages so that only the intended recipient can see them. In the case of Apple’s iMessage and WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, even the companies themselves can’t see the content of the message.

Meanwhile, a new breed of super-secure messaging app services has sprung up that make it impossible for hackers, police or anyone else to see the app’s so-called message (meta-data refers to things like who sent and received the message or the time a message was sent). The best known of these apps are Signal and Telegram, both of which have taken off in popularity in recent months—some suggest this is due to growing fears of government surveillance.

So how do you go about using these tools? The good news is it’s really easy. If you have an iPhone, you’re already using secure messaging when you use Apple’s iMessage service. As for WhatsApp, which is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, it too automatically offers secure messaging.

As for the super-secure ones like Signal, you simply need to go to an app store and download them. The apps will automatically find your contacts who are also using them, which will allow you to contact them just as if you were using your phone’s normal text message app.