Cybersecurity

Top 10 reasons to use Signal as your default messaging app

February 9, 2019

Signal provides one of the best combinations of privacy, security, and convenience. And it's 100% free.

You might think that after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the multiple hacks and leaks it has faced, Facebook would try to downplay the whole I’m-following-you-literally-everywhere-around-the-web-whether-you-know-it-or-not feel. Apparently that’s not the case.

‘We need to be rigorous in tackling the abuse of power that comes with data’, says Germany’s justice minister, Katarina Barley. That quote comes not long after Facebook announced that it would be integrating Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp messaging channels.

According to TechCrunch, WhatsApp has approximately 1.5 billion users. That’s over 100 million voice calls, 4.5 billion photos, and 2 billion minutes on calls per day. That’s a lot of messaging. And it’s all going through Facebook’s servers.

So if you’re ready for a switch to a more secure alternative, here is my suggestion: Use Signal. It’s free, open source, and secure. There’s literally no reason to not be using it.

Here are my top 10 reasons to use Signal as your default messaging app:

#1: Encryption

Encryption is Cybersecurity 101. Without it, you’re leaving your data in an extremely vulnerability. And while encryption has really gone backwards in Australia, other countries should not follow in their footsteps and double down on encryption.

A simple search will yield better ways of describing encryption than I can in simple terms, but essentially, encryption allows you to keep your information secure.

Next time you land on a major website like Google, Netflix, or Amazon, click the green padlock next to the website on the URL. A message should say that your connection to the website is secure. That’s because this is encrypted.

In short, it means that any information transmitted between you and that website is strictly between you and them. No third parties have access to the information between you and that website as long as that connection is encrypted.

The same is true for Signal. With end-to-end encryption, it means that no one but the person you’re messaging can see your messages.

Maybe you don’t care because you “have nothing to hide.” This is the classic first thought. But it’s more complicated than that. And you should care.

Signal.org homepage
Signal is simple, free, and secure.

Besides, why would you want to worry about your messages getting intercepted? Whether it’s a personal message or a business-related message, there is no reason for unauthorized third parties to read your information. Surely I don’t have to explain why this is dangerous.

This is especially true in a business context. There are many confidential messages that are thrown around via text. It gets particularly dangerous when exchanging client information. This can put your organization and job on the line.

#2: Desktop and mobile apps

A big hindrance in texting between iOS and Android devices is the difference in using iMessage vs. SMS text. iPhone users famously hate the dreaded green text—not actually sure why. Maybe it’s because they like seeing the nerve-wracking typing indicators that we see when sending that risky text. But they do.

Either way, with Signal, you don’t have to worry about receiving different types of texts. They’re all sent and received in the same manner. In fact, Signal also offers typing indicators the same way iOS does. And you can even turn them off if you want.

#3: Free and open source

Open source software is instrumental in cybersecurity. In fact, many cybersec professionals will advise you to always use open source software whenever possible.

In a nutshell, open source software means that everyone can see the source code. This is important because it allows anyone and everyone to audit and modify the code. This means that the company or individual behind the app cannot hide how the app functions.

Anyone can see and see how the app functions, communicates, and test if there are any vulnerabilities.

But make no mistake—this does not mean that if you were to modify Signal’s open source code, everyone would receive your newly modified version of Signal. This is a common misconception.

#4: Registration lock

Do you have a SIM card PIN? You should. Most if not all modern carriers offer this. Signal’s registration lock is almost identical to a SIM card lock. The registration lock works to prevent someone else from registering with Signal using your phone number.

So if someone were to spoof your phone number, or if you changed numbers recently and are worried about your carrier handing it to someone else, they would still need the registration lock that you set in order to use Signal using your phone number.

#5: Relay calls

Signal’s relay call feature is something that really impressed me when I first began using Signal. Although some might find it unnecessary, Signal allows you to call any other Signal user through the app through a relay service.

If you turn this option on, it means that all of your calls will be relayed through a Signal server to avoid revealing your IP address to your contact

As I mentioned, some might find it overkill, but it’s a good addition to have, particularly if you have confidential conversations with contacts through Signal. It’s also particularly good if you don’t have a VPN. (Speaking of VPNs, get one immediately.)

#6: Biometric security

Ever wish iMessage had FaceID/TouchID? So do a lot of people. This is another place where Signal shines. You have the option to set your own personal passcode and have Signal lock itself before opening your messages. If you’re texting back and forth, this might not be necessary or might even be deemed an inconvenience. But it’s extremely easy to toggle on/off.

This is just another layer of security designed to protect your communications.

#7: Toggle read receipts

Joel Embiid tweet about girls who don't answer with read receipts turned on
Joel Embiid is not a fan of girls who don’t respond when they read his texts

Who doesn’t love read receipts? A lot of people, actually. But it’s a nice option to have. In Signal, you have the option to toggle read receipts on or off the same way you do on iOS.

Signal also has the option to toggle typing indicators. Some people like typing indicators, others don’t. With Signal, you have the option to toggle them on and off. Use them however and whenever you want.

#8: Privacy screen

Signal’s privacy screen is a subtle but neat feature. What it does is shield the Signal screen when switching apps or pulling down the notification bar/control center. You might not think it’s a big deal, but there have been issues in the past with some apps that exploit a bypass using these tricks. So it’s good to have.

#9: Local storage & disappearing messages

For some people, local storage might be a downside. It means that if you were to get a new phone number, your messages wouldn’t be synced to your new phone.

However, this also means that your messages aren’t sitting on someone’s server somewhere. Remember–a remote server is just a computer at someone else’s location.

With any Facebook messaging service, your messages and content are all being sent through Facebook’s servers and stored there forever.

With Signal, you can also set disappearing messages in every single conversation. You can even think of it as a light Snapchat replacement (because Snapchat also keeps every snap or message you ever sent or received).

#10: Light and dark themes

This is a cosmetic benefit, but I for one enjoy preventing eye strain. Naturally I tend to force my eyes a lot, which can put a lot of strain on them.

Signal offers a choice of light and dark themes, which is particularly nice because iMessage is almost completely white. I personally think the darker colors are easier on the eyes and thus prevent eye strain.

Apparently, Apple believes so too since the rollout of macOS’s Mojave, which finally allows for a dark theme, along with many of its apps.

With Signal, you have the option to immediately toggle a light or dark theme to your preference.

Conclusion

I’ve tried to come up with arguments against Signal, but I’m pretty much empty-handed. Aside from the fact that you have to register your phone number to use Signal (the same way you do on WhatsApp), there isn’t much else.

Registering your phone number isn’t even really a negative at this point, as that is essentially public information nowadays. Plus, it just means that you registering with Signal is preventing someone else from spoofing your phone number and pretending to be you.

Besides, Signal is both a security-privacy app. Signal isn’t meant to be anonymous, it’s meant to be secure. There are apps that focus on security, and others on privacy. Some blend both aspects.

For anonymity, other services like Wire or WickrMe might be better suited.

It’s time to make the jump to Signal as your default messaging app. Not just for yourself, but for everyone’s sake. You have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” Edward Snowden

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

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