You may worry about the security of your network or the cloud, but have you thought about your texts? The truth is text messaging isn’t secure and can be easily accessed by cellphone carriers, government agencies, phone manufacturers, and hackers.
- While conventional text messaging is popular, it’s not a secure communication method. Hackers, cellphone carriers, phone manufacturers, and government officials could read your messages.
- Cellphone carriers keep records of the dates, times, and locations of your messages and calls. These may be given to authorities if requested.
- Alternate messaging platforms such as WhatsApp offer encryption that prevents snoops, hackers, and authorities from accessing your communications.
Read on to learn about the security capabilities (or lack thereof) of short message service (SMS) aka text messages, the threats out there, and how to better protect your messages from malicious eyes.
Whether your texts are for business or personal use, this information is crucial for you to know.
What Are the Security Issues With Text Messaging?
Conventional text messaging is not a secure communication method. Cellphone carriers, government agencies, phone manufacturers, and hackers can gain access to your texts.
Carriers store information about your SMS messages
The first security concern with text messages is that most — if not all — carriers store your SMS data on their servers. None of them have what’s known as “no-log” policies, which prevent the storage of any activity that passes over their networks.
Carriers claim not to store the actual contents of messages. Instead, they acknowledge storing “metadata,” which includes the dates, locations, and times that messages, calls, and searches are made. This data is stored indefinitely, but some reports show that carriers keep message data anywhere from a few days up to seven years. While this metadata might seem harmless, a lot of contextual information can be discerned from it.
This concept is known as “linkability,” in which metadata is used in the aggregate to make inferences about your behavior and what you do. This information can then be used against you by hackers.
Governments can see your SMS messages
You can’t talk about privacy without mentioning the government. We know from the Edward Snowden whistleblower case that the major telecommunication companies and U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) have worked together on warrantless communications surveillance.
Governments may use unsecured, antiquated systems, and hackers are always looking for outdated software to breach. These systems might be used to store text messages in investigations or even smartphone metadata, which potentially leaves your data exposed.
Phone manufacturers store your messages
While I can’t definitively say that phone manufacturers read your text messages, those that use cloud storage for backups and phone transfers certainly store your text messages on their servers. You pay this price for the ability to move seamlessly from one smartphone to the next without losing any data and settings.
While some companies like Apple have taken a pro-privacy stance by not creating backdoor access to locked devices, the same cannot be said for its iCloud services. As for Android, which Google created, the company says that your cloud data “is your own” and that none of it is sold to third parties.
Cellphone manufacturers are willing to cooperate with authorities and hand over information. If a warrant comes through seeking text message data stored on a server, they’ll give it to them.
As for overall security, it’s possible to breach cloud services, but widespread breaches are uncommon. So, attackers are far more likely to gain access to your texts through your mistake ― phishing scams or weak passwords ― than by hacking into Apple or Google servers.
SMS messages can be intercepted by hackers
Text messaging is antiquated and vulnerable to interception by hackers. SMS is like the fax of messaging systems. It’s built on an architecture that is unencrypted. Once messages are sent over the cellular network, they’re at risk.
Attackers don’t need to hack into your phone to access your texts. All they need to do is misuse software meant for other purposes to intercept your unencrypted messages.
How to Secure Your Text Messages
The first step you’ll want to take for text messaging security is to ditch SMS altogether, at least when sending any kind of sensitive information. It’s a dinosaur and can barely be trusted with little more than simple greetings or mundane conversations about last night’s episode of “The Voice.”
- iPhone users: Ensure that iMessage is turned on when communicating with other iPhone users.
- Android users: Recently updated Android users have access to what is known as RCS (rich communication services) messaging coupled with end-to-end encryption. Android users gained this benefit in 2021.
The problem with these two systems is their incompatibility with each other. This means messages sent between these two operating systems default to SMS messages have no encryption.
The solution is to adopt one of the many encrypted messaging applications available to bridge the gap between iPhone and Android. Using asymmetric encryption, these applications prevent snooping eyes from reading the contents of your messages, ensuring your privacy.
Hackers will not have access to your text messages, nor will phone carriers, governments, and manufacturers. These apps are so effective that some lawmakers sought to weaken the strength of their encryption. That should tell you something about just how secure these applications are.
Upgrading Your Security From the Bottom Up
Updating your cybersecurity is a holistic process requiring attention to all business parts. This includes upgrading your network security software, installing a new firewall, or changing how you conduct business communications, such as dropping SMS messages.
Whatever you want to improve, Digital.com has countless guides, reviews, and best practice articles to help you secure your business correctly. Be sure to check back for regular updates, including content and new insights into the future of cybersecurity.