Yesterday we wrote an article about claims by a local journalist that our government can track WhatsApp messages and thus people having conversations they would prefer to keep secure should install a more secure application like Signal.
So because we are looking at Signal strentghs over WhatsApp, this is going to read a bit like a love letter but I think its important to note that I’m yet to use Signal and the features I’m going to talk about are features I researched about to better understand what makes the application so special.
Open source vs Closed-source
First off, Signal is built on open source code which is a good thing when it comes to knowing about vulnerabilities. Researchers can easily unearth vulnerabilities which forces Signal to stay on its toes when it comes to cleaning up vulnerabilities. WhatsApp on the other hand is closed-source code which means vulnerabilities take longer to be discovered and are vulnerabilities are usually discovered after being exploited
Signal has a number of privacy-focused features which have been a part of their application for years and are yet to come to WhatsApp. One such feature is view once messages and self-destruction messages. View once messages only allow the recipient of the text to read the message once and then it disappears from the chat. Similarly, self-destructing messages are only in the chat for a specified duration before disappearing.
Group chats on Signal are client-side based and not server-side based which means group messages do not leave your phone. The reasoning behind this is to prevent server from knowing which message is made for group and which one is a direct message.
Screen security also allows Signal users to prohibit screenshotting and recording within the application. This means if you have any application that screen records without you knowing you’ll still be safe.
An in-app incognito keyboard also ensures that instead of using Android’s keyboard which might send data back to Google or the manufacturer of your device, what you type doesn’t leave your device.
In, addition to all this backups on Signal are not sent to Google Drive or Apple’s iCloud but are also backed up securely and maintain encryption meaning users are less exposed to large scale data breaches.
The Facebook connection
Since WhatsApp was bought by Facebook the likelihood that user data from WhatsApp would start to be used by Facebook has increased in likelihood and Facebook all but confirmed that this will eventually be the case with adverts coming to WhatsApp status’ at some point.
Advertising within WhatsApp means Facebook is going to be gathering more user data to improve the ad targeting i.e ensuring you get ads accurate to your interests.
This coupled by the fact that Facebook is working on Portal which will link users Facebook accounts with their WhatsApp and Instagram profiles can only mean WhatsApp will become less private going forward.
Signal (and Telegram) have no such plans and so one can assume they will continue offering a more private and arguably more secure experience for a longer time.