Chat applications may be convenient, but are they secure?

May 05, 2013

It was announced this week that messaging apps have now overtaken text messages by the volume of messages exchanged each day. This isn’t breaking news - in 2012, close to 19 billion messages were sent per day through chat applications (such as Whatsapp, Line, Viber, etc) while only around 17 billion were sent through text messages. While a lot of attention focuses on the steep decline in the revenue of telecom providers, what consumers should be interested in here is security. As the trend toward messaging apps continues, we need to ask ourselves if we can trust these services to project our data. How secure are chat apps? How much data could be leaked or hacked from a breached chat app? Are they more or less safe than traditional text messages?

With the amount of data chat apps handle increasing rapidly, the security of these applications has not kept pace. It is not uncommon to hear news about these types of apps being hacked, and you can even find hacking “how to guides” quite easily. It’s projected that by 2014 chat apps will send 50 billion messages per year, compared to only 21 billion from text. That’s a lot of data that potentially anyone with an internet connection could tap into.

However, chat apps aren’t inherently less secure than text messages - it’s just that consumers have more options to prevent against text message hacking. Companies such as Gold Lock help secure texts by using encryption to protect against third party interceptions. Chat applications such as iMessage and Skype are actually quite secure as well. CNet reports that even with a court order approved by federal judges, it is impossible to intercept iMessages between two Apple devices’ because of the encryption used in their chat services.

In terms of privacy on the other hand, recently it was revealed that the popular service Whatsapp had actually breached data privacy laws, forcing customers to grant it access to their entire address book. Because customers could not choose or control what data or how much of it was shared with the company, it was determined to be a violation of personal privacy. Right now, chat apps all have fairly similar privacy terms, but as the field matures consumers should pay more attention to how a company protects both their data and their privacy.

The days of texting may be coming to a close. It’s important for consumers to understand the security and privacy concerns associated with chat apps, as it looks like these fun, cheap and interactive way of exchanging messages isn’t going away.