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Earlier this year we detailed some secure alternatives to WhatsApp 4 Slick WhatsApp Alternatives that Guard Your Privacy 4 Slick WhatsApp Alternatives that Guard Your Privacy Facebook bought WhatsApp. Now that we're over the shock of that news, are you worried about your data privacy? Read More , and one option was Telegram. Since then, it has seen a lot of growth — fuelled in part by Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp Facebook WhatsApp, SkyDrive OneDrive, Yahoo Siri, Apple Tesla [Tech News Digest] Facebook WhatsApp, SkyDrive OneDrive, Yahoo Siri, Apple Tesla [Tech News Digest] Facebook buys WhatsApp, FCC responds to the loss of 'net neutrality', SkyDrive becomes OneDrive, Yahoo wants its own Siri, Apple is interested in Tesla, and Samsung mocks Apple in its latest set of television commercials. Read More and receiving a further five million signups during a four-hour WhatsApp outage in February.

Telegram is becoming a serious contender for the title of best free messaging app, but what sets it apart from other apps and why are more users picking it up?

Security

The app’s website states that it’s “taking back our right to privacy Lessons Learned From Don't Spy On Us: Your Guide To Internet Privacy Lessons Learned From Don't Spy On Us: Your Guide To Internet Privacy Read More ,” and the security specs show that it means business. Telegram offers two different types of security for two different types of chats. For standard chats, there’s client-server and server-client encryption, which means that your message is unencrypted on Telegram’s servers—which is fine for most day-to-day chats. The advantage of this unencrypted storage is that it makes cross-platform messaging possible (see below).

To get full end-to-end encryption, in which Telegram never receives an unencrypted version of your message, you can use what’s called a secret chat. With the end-to-end encryption, the option to confirm with your recipient that you’re using the same encryption key to increase security, and the ability to set a self-destruct timer, secret chats provide about as much security as you could ask for in messaging, though this doesn’t allow for cross-platform messages.

telegram-ios

Security is powered by 256-bit asymmetric AES and RSA 2048 encryption, two very strong standards. It also uses a secure key exchange to make sure that your encryption keys stay secret. The best part about this security, however, is that you don’t need to take any action at all to set it up or use it. It’s built right in! No manual key generation, like with PGP PGP Me: Pretty Good Privacy Explained PGP Me: Pretty Good Privacy Explained Read More ; no verbally exchanging keys; and no passwords to remember (though support for account passwords is forthcoming).

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Telegram is so confident in their security that they’re offering $200,000 to anyone who can crack it.

These security features figured strongly in the migration of 1.5 million South Koreans from Kakao Talk to Telegram after an announcement by the country’s president that there would be a crackdown on private messages that were deemed to be insulting to her. South Korea isn’t alone in this — Telegram has been downloaded and used in countries all around the world where people suspect that their messages could be monitored.

Convenience

There are always tradeoffs between convenience and security, but the non-profit team behind Telegram aims to make them minimal. Even with all of the security Telegram provides, it manages to be very convenient. To get it up and running, you just download the app, enter your phone number, and enter the security code you receive by text. You’re now ready to start messaging.

telegram-systems

The interface is only slightly more complicated than most built-in text messaging apps, and just about everything is self-explanatory, making it very easy to use right out of the box. It’s also available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, and there are desktop clients available for PC, Mac, and Linux (or use a web-based client). The ability to continue your conversations on different platforms is really useful, and now it’s not just limited to Mac and iPhone owners.

Another thing that you’ll notice with Telegram is that messages are sent very quickly, even though they’re encrypted; this is due to the MTProto protocol developed specifically for the application, which allows for lightning-fast messaging. The fact that they have distributed servers all over the world also makes for fast messaging.

Ideals

There aren’t very many messaging apps out there that have an ideological view behind them, but Telegram’s is worth talking about. When the Telegram team says that it aims to take back our right to messaging privacy, they really mean it. But they don’t lock down the app and make it difficult to use in the pursuit of that goal.

While not all of the code has been released yet, the group behind the app plans on making it all open-source What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] "Open source" is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days. You may know that certain things are open source, like Linux and Android, but do you know what it entails? What is open... Read More  eventually. Up until now, only some of the most important parts have been released, like an API for people to develop their own apps and open-source clients. Developers are encouraged to use the protocol, API, and source code for the app to help make Telegram even more useful.

telegram-osx

The app was created by two people that you may not have expected—Nikolai and Pavel Durov, the founders of Russia’s largest social network, VK. While the Durov brothers and a number of the developers of Telegram are of Russian origin, they claim no connection with Russia, and point out in their FAQ that Telegram is actually based in Berlin.

The Perfect Combination

There are a number of secure messaging apps out there (here are six options for iOS 6 Secure iOS Messaging Apps That Take Privacy Very Seriously 6 Secure iOS Messaging Apps That Take Privacy Very Seriously Don't fancy your messages being read by unwanted parties? Get a secure messaging app and worry no more. Read More  and four more designed with privacy in mind 4 Slick WhatsApp Alternatives that Guard Your Privacy 4 Slick WhatsApp Alternatives that Guard Your Privacy Facebook bought WhatsApp. Now that we're over the shock of that news, are you worried about your data privacy? Read More ), but there are few that offer the great combination of features that Telegram does with a transparent, non-profit philosophy and no price tag. Two levels of encryption, secure key exchange, very easy setup, and super-fast messaging speeds are something that you’ll be hard-pressed to find in another messaging app. And if you do, you can bet it won’t be free, open-source, and as open to the public as Telegram.

Have you used Telegram? What did you think? Did you find it better or worse than other secure messaging apps?

Image Credits: Antique telegraph Via Shutterstock

  1. Lucas
    January 7, 2015 at 4:35 am

    I am totally love Telegram, I have a few friends in telegram, I have invited friends but they still stuck in WhatsApp , I think Telegram should have some advertisements in southeast asia (Laos, Thailand , Vietnam, ...) to show their work , and to take the right to privacy for users.

    • Dann Albright
      January 7, 2015 at 11:36 am

      Yeah, I still have the same problem; lots of people on WhatsApp, only a few with Telegram. I'm still hoping that it'll take off in popularity. Telling people about it is definitely the first step!

  2. ZIPPY
    November 24, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Brilliant messaging app and getgetting Bette r by the day but not enough people on it yet speed is very important and security and telegram has both now it just need to stay there and it wwill come. Add all the other things whatsapp has and it's the best

    • Dann Albright
      November 25, 2014 at 11:55 am

      I definitely agree that more people should use it. If there's a big upswing in usage, I think it'll be the best app out there. WhatsApp definitely has the advantage in userbase, though. What do you mean by "all the other things WhatsApp has"? Are there features that you would like to see in Telegram?

  3. Tom Barry
    November 23, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    The features of Telegram, Really sounds Good.

    • Dann Albright
      November 24, 2014 at 8:38 am

      It's a great app, and I highly recommend it.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Amar
    November 18, 2014 at 10:44 am

    One useful advantage over WhatsApp is that when you move to a new device your old chats reload. More tedious to bring WhatsApp messages over. Also easy to use Telegram on the desktop as well.

    • Dann Albright
      November 19, 2014 at 7:39 am

      I definitely agree with you here—that's one of my favorite features of Telegram. I use it on my phone, my computer, and my iPad, and I was able to easily pull up all of my messages when I switched from Android to iPhone.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. Darshak Parikh
    November 17, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    At least half a dozen of my friends are active on Telegram and we use it to communicate regularly. The experience so far has been smooth and satisfactory. While we do miss a few tiny features (like being able to share a contact), it doesn't really matter since there are easy workarounds.

    • Telegram User
      November 17, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      I think there is a way to share a contact.
      Go to the profile of a person, click Share Contact and choose a Recipient

  6. Rtzu
    November 17, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Very good and detailed overview about encrypted messaging:

    Fighting DISHFIRE: The State of Mobile, Cross-Platform, Encrypted Messaging
    https://missingm.co/2014/02/fighting-dishfire-the-state-of-mobile-cross-platform-encrypted-messaging/

    • Dann Albright
      November 18, 2014 at 8:18 am

      Thanks for the link! I've seen that before, and it's a good overview of encrypted messaging apps.

  7. Ashwin
    November 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    I've given the green light for telegram but my friends so kind of stuck to not so good Whatsapp

    • Dann Albright
      November 18, 2014 at 8:13 am

      I'm in the same boat. I send a lot of messages to one person via Telegram, but most of my other friends use WhatsApp, so I still send a number of messages that way. I'm trying to convert others, though!

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