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Just about anyone can read your private conversations if you use SMS

Published Apr 18th, 2016 9:30PM EDT

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Are your iPhone or Android text messages secure? Can anyone intercept them and read their contents? These are questions not many smartphone users ask, but not all text apps offer bulletproof security. In fact, some means of communication offer practically no security at all. Some are better than others at guarding your personal data, whether it’s trivial talk about your favorite sports team, or sharing sensitive documents, pictures and personal data. In fact, some forms of chat are practically impossible to crack.

Meanwhile, if you want to make it as easy as possible for just about anyone to hack your messages and read your private conversations, SMS is definitely the way to go.

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Following WhasApp’s announcement that end-to-end encryption has finally been deployed, USA Today looked at what kind of chat services are encrypted, and what kind of encryption they offer. “With normal SMS you have very little privacy because they’re not encrypted,” Micah Lee, a former staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told USA Today.

End-to-end encryption means that messages are encrypted on the sender’s device and only the recipient can decrypt them. They’re encrypted along the way as well so that even the company – in this case, WhatsApp – can’t decode them even if asked by law enforcement.

Similarly, Apple’s FaceTime and iMessage also feature end-to-end encryption. Signal, a third-party app, also has end-to-end encryption enabled by default, just like any other WhatsApp, FaceTime and iMessage.

Meanwhile, regular text messages aren’t encrypted at all. Other user favorite chat apps including Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Kik, Skype, and Yahoo Messenger only offer in-transit encryption, which means they could be accessed by a third party.

Now, to fully protect chats with end-to-end encryption, you and the people you’re talking with have to be using the same app. That means you can only iMessage people who are using iOS and Mac devices. To talk to Android and other platforms securely, you need cross-platform apps like WhatsApp, Signal and others.

Even still, hackers can still pick up traces of your communication in some cases. “Just by monitoring meta data it would be pretty easy to tell if someone is cheating on their partner, is looking for another job, or had an abortion or is a member of the NRA,” Lee told USA Today.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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