Encryption is the process through which data is encoded so that it remains hidden from or inaccessible to unauthorized users. It helps protect private information, sensitive data, and can enhance the security of communication between client apps and servers. In essence, when your data is encrypted, even if an unauthorized person or entity gains access to it, they will not be able to read it.
The process itself is fairly straightforward. To encrypt data, an encryption key uses an encryption algorithm to translate (encode) plaintext or readable data into unreadable data or ciphertext. Only the corresponding decryption key can decode the scrambled ciphertext back into readable plaintext. How the encryption is done and what type of encryption is used gets much more complex.
There are two types of encryption algorithms: symmetric and asymmetric but for now we don’t want to go into full details
If you want to send messages without worrying that other people might be poking around in the texts you’re sending, you should be using an encrypted messaging service.
There’s never a true guarantee that what you’re doing writing isn’t going to be viewed — often our own mistakes can lead to vulnerabilities that leave us wide open, but using encrypted messages is certainly a step in the right direction.
If you’re unfamiliar, encryption helps jumble the content of a message into random data until it’s received on the other end and the original message is compiled back together again. This means if anyone intercepts the message — a hacker for example — it’s mostly just jumbled characters and symbols. Keep in mind that this doesn’t protect your messages from being seen if your device is ever compromised — if someone has access to your phone (or the person you’re sending messages to) they can read the messages.
One option for Android and iPhone:
One go-to app for folks who want encrypted messages is Signal. It’s available on iPhone and Android and is really easy to use. First you download the app then register your phone number. On Android, you can even set it to be the default messaging app (though again, you’ll want to make sure you’re sending messages to someone who’s also using Signal to ensure encryption.) When you send a message to someone without Signal, it will ask you to invite that person to use the app. Do this and your messages will be encrypted.
Signal also has additional security features including options to block others from taking screenshots, disabling keyboards that learn from what you type, and the option to set a password to open the app. There’s an option to make messages disappear after 5 seconds, which is convenient if you’re worried about someone going through your phone.
Finally, Signal shows you the “safety” number that you can compare with the person you’re chatting to to make sure that the conversation is secure.
WhatsApp is another option that works for Android and iPhone. Like iMessage, it also offers end-to-end encryption that theoretically keeps the contents safe from anyone outside the WhatsApp conversation. WhatsApp doesn’t require you to change any settings — everything is already encrypted by default. It also promises that it doesn’t store any of the messages on its servers, which means your messages are kept locally on the phones they’re sent and received from. WhatsApp also has a web interface, so you can chat from a web browser on your computer, too.