If you’re looking for the best way to expose sensitive information and conversations outside of publicly posting it on the internet, send it over a short message service (SMS). Standard SMS messaging is a capability built on ancient technology with little regard for security and privacy. Everything you send over SMS is visible easily to anyone, including phone carriers, governments, and hackers.
So, if you’re dealing with valuable or sensitive information, the only acceptable way to send it via message is by using encryption software for your mobile phone.
How Do You Secure Text Messages?
You can ditch SMS for a more secure messaging experience in several ways, such as iMessage, Android Message, and third-party secure messaging apps.
If you want to secure your messages on your iPhone, the easiest way is by turning on iMessage. It creates an encrypted text thread that is only readable by the sender and the recipient. However, only iPhone users can use iMessage. If you’re an iPhone user and you send a message to anything other than another iMessage user, it sends it as a standard SMS without all of the encryption protections.
Android Message encryption, introduced in 2021, effectively duplicates the iMessage experience but end-to-end encryption of Android Message doesn’t work when sending texts to iPhones. And if both parties don’t turn on the encryption settings, then messages are sent using the standard SMS method. One side encrypts messages while the other decrypts them using different keys. It also doesn’t work with group texts.
Third-party secure messaging apps
If Apple and Google aren’t up to your standards, where should you go? Plenty of third-party texting apps will protect your conversations. These apps provide end-to-end encryption of your messages, don’t use SS7, and can send encrypted messages to all phones and mobile OS.
In many cases, the apps don’t store any of your texting data encrypted or otherwise. No one can intercept your communications and even if governments come knocking, these companies can’t provide any useful information to them.
If you’re looking for this kind of experience, these are the apps for you:
These apps are so secure some congressional members have insisted the encryption be weakened or backdoors be created so law enforcement can access them. That should tell you everything you need to know.
Can You Remove Encryption From Text Messages?
The only way you can realistically remove modern encryption is by using the decryption key. Otherwise you would be using brute force, or trying to decrypt a message using a computer to attempt every possible key combination until you get the right one.
It’s theoretical, which means it has never been done before. AES-128 and AES-256 are the two most common encryption standards in use today. If we used the strongest quantum computer currently in existence, it would still take 200 times longer than the universe has existed to crack AES-128 and even longer for AES-256.
Hope those hackers and the FBI have their Netflix queues and popcorn all set up while waiting for that to break! Rest assured knowing your data is secure while using an encrypted messaging app.
Why Should You Send Encrypted Text Messages?
Anyone with the right app can send end-to-end encrypted text messages that can only be read by the sender and the recipient. SMS messaging is incredibly flawed and outdated when it comes to privacy and security. It’s nearly the equivalent of sending a fax over the phone without paper. There are several ways prying eyes can intercept with ease.
If someone wants to snoop on your phone, they might do it through a spy app. If they had a good enough excuse and asked to borrow your phone, such as to call a tow truck or contact a family member, what are the chances you would say no?
The key to being a successful hacker is the ability to prey on our inherent trusting nature. Once an attacker can access your phone, they could install spy apps to read your text messages as you receive them.
Unfortunately, encryption won’t help you in this instance. Encryption secures your text messages on their journey between you and the recipient to protect them from interception during that transaction. Once a message is received by your device and you open it, it’s decrypted, making it visible to spyware installed on your device.
The best way to avoid these kinds of attacks is by monitoring your phone closely if you must lend it out for someone else to use. If that proves to be difficult, you can search through your device for some of the more popular spyware apps, including:
There are many spyware apps available. The best practice is to look through your apps for anything that looks suspicious or that you don’t remember downloading yourself.
Mass messaging apps
Sometimes, even innocent apps can be repurposed into an SMS intercepting tool.
This type of attack allows lateral movement to other services you use. Once you know a target’s email and access their text messages, you’ve eliminated the barriers SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA) creates. All it takes is a simple “forgot password” and a confirmation code sent via SMS to change a password and access many different accounts.
This vast security flaw exploits the unsecured nature of SMS messaging, and the same risk exists with the previously mentioned spyware apps. The only difference is that this attack doesn’t require physical contact with your phone. In this case, you might want to switch off SMS 2FA and move to a more secure method.
Signaling System No. 7 interception
This is what most people think of regarding intercepting text messages. Instead of relying on spyware apps or mass messaging platforms, Signaling System No. 7 (SS7) interception is more technical since it relies on equipment purchased on the black market.
SS7 is the system that SMS is built on and works through. This system was created in the 1970s and has absolutely zero protections, although experts have been ringing the alarm bells for years. SS7 traffic operates on simple commands that are impossible to distinguish between authentic and malicious. The system simply does whatever anyone with access to it tells it.
This means that an attacker with the right equipment can intercept SMS messages and store that data on their chosen system. All data is in the open and ripe for the picking. The bottom line is standard SMS isn’t secure at all.
Does Your Security Need an Upgrade?
Securing your business data and communications takes more than an encrypted text messaging app. Updates require a holistic process with attention paid to all parts of your operation, from upgrading your network security software to implementing a new firewall. Or, in this case, they require changing how you conduct business communications on mobile devices.
FAQs About Encrypting Text Messages
What are the disadvantages of encrypted messages?
If the password or key were lost, you would not be able to explore the encrypted file. And using simpler keys makes the data insecure, and randomly, anyone can access it.
How secure are encrypted messages?
Encrypted messaging apps use strong methods to ensure only you and the recipient can view your messages, photos, videos, and files. By avoiding unsecured cloud storage, the apps prevent unauthorized access to your data.
What happens if a message is encrypted?
A message is encrypted at all points during the transit, so even if it is intercepted during transmission, no one can read its contents. The encryption and decryption of the message only happen at the endpoints (the sender and the receiver).