MintDice is proud to bring you the second part of the CryptoSmarts series, a 100% unbiased/non-affiliate paid article set that will focus on relatively simple ways you can boost your privacy, take power away from overbearing governments and corporations while also doing relative good for society all at the same time with minimal effort. Rest assured that anything suggested here is solely for your own benefit.
It's important for cryptocurrency users to take security and privacy seriously because it can have catastrophic consequences if they were to become hacked or compromised in some way. Therefore, we are giving users a serious in depth guide to improving their day to day internet security. The second part of the series will look at a variety of secure messaging applications for you to choose from. Each may have their own niche or specialization that can fit your personal needs. Often times, it's good to have more than one of these applications for broader purposes.
Centralized Service Provider
Arguably the most well known and widely used of secure messaging platforms is the Signal Application. Signal is a central entity that runs an open sourced protocol featuring End-To-End Encryption (E2EE), unless if you send your message as a SMS. The great thing about Signal is that it can benefit virtually any participant automatically with nearly zero effort, especially if they use the Android operating system on their phone. By switching to Signal as the default application, you can continue sending SMS messages as you once were, but if you message anyone else that happens to have Signal on their phone, your messages are now both encrypted. This, in effect, makes the service strictly beneficial to all mobile device users.
In addition to being a first rate phone application, it also functions as a desktop application and can allow users to do encrypted voice and video chat making it truly one of the best all around messengers. For users looking for the most bang for their buck with limited amounts of care about their privacy, Signal becomes the no brainer choice for everyone. Granted, while Signal is very strong, it isn't the best application for everyone since it doesn't function quite as appropriately as other messenger platforms out there in certain circumstances, for now anyway. Secondly, if you desire a more distributed platform, be that on a federated or P2P network, there are options to obfuscate further than simply Signal.
As kind of a global argument, be that with international politics all the way down to home owners associations, there are often trade-offs between centralization and decentralization of these types of networks. The centralized platforms, like Signal, can develop rapidly and push how many improvements quickly. Decentralized platforms end up being more sluggish in their overall movement and development speed but do benefit from becoming less susceptible to various types of attacks or interference. Ultimately, they can both be quite useful depending on the person or the use case.
Federated Service Provider
Federated networks are the in between happy medium, between a centralized service provider and a full blown P2P provider. The way this works is by having multiple trusted independent third parties host servers. This includes yourself, as you can run your own server on a federated network. Additionally, you can choose which servers you which to connect to or not to connect to. This hierarchical system attempts to take the better elements of high performance and scalability while also giving an element of decentralization and privacy to it's user base.
MintDice presently recommends the usage of the application known as Element for this particular type of messaging app. Element runs off of the Matrix protocol which is effectively the gold standard for open sourced, secure, decentralized real time communication. Element has all of the features you'd expect to come with the messenger app of today. For those of you out there that are using less secure applications, such as Skype or Telegram, this is the far superior option from a technical stand point.
The drawback to Element or federated service providers is that while they attempt to pull the best from both branches in the centralized and decentralized worlds, some negatives are invariably acquired. In order for nodes to accept new protocol versions they have to be thoroughly tested before they are accepted onto the network of trust. This creates for a delay in release times. Secondly, some network nodes may not behave honestly since anyone can join the network. This can create situations where they block certain types of communications or other such measures which would go against the spirit of a free and open platform.
By and large, however, Element is probably the best bet for someone that takes their privacy fairly seriously but doesn't want to compromise super hard on features and the quality of life that revolves around general day to day usage on their programs.
Peer-To-Peer Messenger Applications
Perhaps some of the ultimate in security will be the P2P messenger applications. What they may lack for in certain capacities they will make up for in others. With P2P messenger applications, they will have all data encrypted by default and there is no way around this E2EE since it will be hard coded into open sourced software. And existing on a completely distributed network also ensures that communications cannot be tampered with. However, this comes at a few costs. Firstly, software development is notoriously difficult with platforms like this since one must reach consensus. Hard forks and the like may be necessary for the continuation of development which can lead to political and philosophical divides on what is the correct path forward. This can lead to a standstill in innovation.
Additionally, because you must manually connect to the network to make your presence known, this does two things. First, it broadcasts your IP address to the users that you are communicating with which can give adversaries information about yourself or your location that may not actually end up doing you the best of favors, even with the best of intentions being on a P2P network. For this reason, it's best to use a P2P network only with users that you trust and not unknown individuals. Furthermore, since your IP address must constantly broadcast itself to the network, this can drain battery on devices more quickly than other applications which is a minor drawback, but something worth considering nonetheless.
All of that said, P2P messenger applications will be some of the best performance that you can get strictly for privacy out there in the world today. MintDice presently suggests choosing between one of two providers which are Briar and Jami. You are probably best off checking out both of these applications as they are both stellar in terms of overall security, but one of the platforms may speak to you better depending on your function requirements or design preferences. Either should do just fine at the end of the day.
Ever since the spawn of coronavirus, video chat applications like Zoom have been popping off in popularity. Unfortunately, most of these popular apps are not the ideal apps that people should be using for such types of services or requirements.The difference between the upcoming list and the aforementioned list of apps is that the former ones are primarily designed for text but do have video type applications. Meanwhile these programs are first designed for voice/video and have text integration as their secondary measure.
The best applications for voice/video that MintDice recommends are the following:
- Linphone - Open sourced SIP phone and free VOIP.
- Jitsi Meet - Free open sourced VOIP, conference calls and instant messenger
- Mumble - Open sourced low latency voice app meant for gamers (great alternative to Discord).
Considering that the boom of video chat is upon us, it's good to get people off on the right foot using the correct technology so that network effects can appropriate themselves in the correct direction moving forward. Make sure to encourage your friends, families and even corporate business partners to use these applications for the greater good of both yourself and society.
The list as proposed is up to date as of September 2020. However, things change, rapidly. Many secure messenger applications stop receiving updates, they may change their priorities or may sell off to larger enterprises which will lead to nearly immediate conflicts of interest. Depending on the level of privacy that you require, you will then need to check up on things periodically after you have a messenger application set that you use with your personal network. Things will change. Both the applications themselves, the threat models that exist in society and the network of users that use the applications will continuously evolve and you'll have to adapt along with the rest of it, choosing between trade-offs of convenience and privacy.
Stay safe, especially as cryptocurrency/Bitcoin users. Use E2EE whenever possible and encourage everyone else to do the same. By making small changes like the ones mentioned in this article you can have a very large impact on global trends towards demanding more privacy and security. And if you missed it, be sure to check out our previous CryptoSmarts article about secure e-mail providers.