April 12, 2022

Make Your App Secure: Chat Privacy Explained

Nabeel Keblawi

Make Your App Secure: Chat Privacy Explained

Each day, we adopt new technologies that make our lives easier. However, convenience often comes with a price: our own privacy.

When probed with the question of how willing we are to give our personal information, many people shrug and think that they have nothing to hide. 

But that argument doesn't hold water

Keeping our privacy should be our priority, and we should be careful about where and how we disclose our personal information. While data collected at one moment may be trivial, privacy researchers reveal that everything you do online is meticulously tracked in detail.

All these data points are collected to build a digital profile, which follows us across the internet, molding our digital experiences – customizing everything we see online to optimize engagement, clicks, and purchases. While microtargeting tailors our online experience according to our interests may seem like a good thing, it is a powerful tool that can easily be abused.

In this article, we discuss the security of chat apps and how to build one that maintains user privacy.

What is Chat Security and Why is it Important?

Chat Security
Source: Unsplash

We use a variety of chat messaging apps on a daily basis to communicate and connect with people around the globe. However, each new messaging app brings new vectors for potential chat privacy breaches. 

Each time we use a messaging app, we risk our privacy and security as our messages could be potentially read by third parties. This is why some messaging apps use encryption to protect our information from prying eyes. 

Encryption can be described as the process of converting text to cipher (i.e. readable content to non-readable formats), securing messages we send and preventing others from accessing and decrypting our data.

The benefits of chat encryption include:

  • Secured Personal Information: Encryption allows users to safely transmit personal or business information over the internet.
  • Data Integrity: Encrypted data is harder to hack and alter, and data breaches can be identified quickly before much damage is done.  
  • Data Protection Across Devices: Encryption protects users’ data regardless of the device they use since cyphers are written for any platform. 

What are Some Examples of Chat Privacy Regulations?

To ensure chat privacy, governments in North America and Europe put in place several regulations and instant messaging protocols. Some of these include:

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

GDPR aims to provide people with greater control over how their personal information is processed and used. GDPR policy affects every business that collects, processes, uses, and stores data from people in the European Economic Area and requires organizations to use encryption or pseudonymization of data whenever possible. It also forces an organization to build awareness around data protection, and create internal policies that address sensitive data handling.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

Companies that make software for the healthcare industry must follow certain requirements. HIPAA determines the ways organizations in the healthcare industry can store, share, manage and record the protected health information (PHI) of patients. Any software within the healthcare industry must be HIPAA compliant. 

System and Organization Controls 2 (SOC 2)

SOC 2 is a policy developed by the American Institute of CPA. It defines criteria for managing customer data based on five principles: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. 

International Organization for Standardization 270001 (ISO 270001)

The International Organization for Standardization 270001 or, shortly, ISO 270001 can be defined as the international standard which lists the best practices for information security management systems.

How Does Chat Privacy Affect Users’ Trust and Adoption? 

WhatsApp Chat Privacy
Source: ChatWith.io

At the beginning of 2021, one of the most popular messenger apps in the world, WhatsApp, rolled out new terms of service. 

Those changes would make WhatsApp a place where people not only chat with friends, but also shop, organize, and plan their lives. These changes sparked an uproar since they highlighted WhatsApp's practice of sharing certain user data with its parent company, Facebook.

Elon Musk, the biggest critic of Facebook, called everyone on Twitter to switch to Signal, a messaging platform only a few people knew about. After Musk’s tweet, Signal experienced a surge in users so large that their servers had difficulties handling it.

The situation with Signal and WhatsApp shows that the demand for secure messaging apps is high.

Security is a top challenge in the cloud and SaaS adoption for enterprise IT infrastructures. What's more, according to a Ping Identity report, almost 50% of IT professionals state that security is the biggest obstacle for cloud adoption, while almost 40% state it's also the biggest barrier to SaaS adoption.

That said protecting customer, proprietary, and partner data is now more important than ever.

Examples of Popular Apps and the Types of Security They Use

After explaining the role of chat privacy and safety in growing users’ trust and adoption, we show you what kind of security the most popular messaging apps have.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp End-to-End Encryption for Chat Privacy
Source: tech.co

WhatsApp is one of the most popular instant messaging apps, with over two billion active users. To ensure chat privacy, WhatsApp uses several security methods, including:

  • End-to-End Encryption: WhatsApp uses an encryption protocol developed by Open Whisper System which is the company that developed Signal. This means that only the sender and the recipient have the keys to decrypt the messages sent via this app.
  • Verify Encryption: WhatsApp allows its users to confirm that their calls and messages are end-to-end encrypted via a Verify Security Code screen. 
  • Two-Step Verification: Allows users to protect their account with a PIN that is required to verify their phone number on any device.
  • Not Storing Messages: WhatsApp doesn’t keep users’ private messages. They’re only stored on the app’s servers while they’re traveling to their recipient. If a message cannot be delivered, it’s deleted after a month. 

Signal

Signal
Source: Signal

Signal is known to be one of the most secure messaging apps available on the market. It is one of the few apps that has its privacy-preserving technology always enabled, which ensures that there is never a risk of sharing moments or sending messages to a non-intended recipient. 

For an added layer of security, users can choose different intervals for disappearing messages, and set it differently for each conversation they have in the app. Signal doesn’t have the keys needed to decrypt messages. That said, nobody would ever be able to access the users’ content.

Telegram

Telegram
Source: Pixabay

Telegram is one of the most popular secure messaging solutions for heavily encrypted conversations. On Telegram, chats are end-to-end encrypted and users can choose to self-destruct messages, files, photos, and videos in a certain amount of time after they have been sent and received. 

This app even has self-destructing messages and allows its users to turn on secret chats that force the app on the other side to delete messages if a user wants them to disappear.

Pryvate

Source: Pryvate

Pryvate is a secure messaging app available for Android and iOS devices that enhances the protection of conversations via triple-encrypted chat, video, email, and browsing. 

Its encryption technology doesn't rely on servers. Instead, it enables direct connection to recipients. With Pryvate's auto-delete timer, users can erase sensitive messages and call history. What's best, they can even delete messages from the recipient's device too.

Threema 

Threema for Chat Privacy
Source: Threema

Threema is a secure messaging service that prides itself on its guiding principle: the restraint on metadata.  

To prevent misuse of data, Threema's servers permanently delete messages after they're delivered to the recipient. Instead of managing information on a server, information on Threema is managed locally which means that the conversations are protected against eavesdropping. Furthermore, since there is no fallback to decrypted connections, nobody can read messages on Threema, except the intended recipient.

Chat Security Features that Boost User Engagement 

As we’ve seen, how a chat provider handles privacy issues greatly impacts the apps’ commercial success. That said, let’s see what are some of the chat security features that can help chat app providers boost user engagement.

  • End-to-End Encryption. End-to-end encryption is a security method that aims to keep all communication secure by encrypting messages so no third parties can read the messages as they travel between the sender and the recipients. In true end-to-end encryption, encryption occurs at the device level. To be more specific, messages and files are encrypted before they leave a device, and they’re not decrypted until they reach the recipient. Since they don’t have private keys to decrypt data, hackers cannot access it on the server. 
  • Data Masking. Data masking is a process that allows users to create fake, but realistic versions of existing data. The main goal of data masking is to protect sensitive data, while providing a functional alternative when real data is not needed—for example, in user training, sales demos, or software testing. There are several types of data masking types including static and deterministic data masking. 
  • XSS Filter. Cross Site scripting, or XSS is a computer security vulnerability we typically find in web apps. It allows hackers to bypass security mechanisms by injecting malicious scripts into web pages viewed by users. 
  • Virus & Malware Scanner. The Virus & Malware Scanner Extension enables developers to scan user-uploaded files and flag it in case of malicious content. 
  • Disappearing Messages. The Disappearing Messages extension enables users to send messages that will disappear after a certain period. The extension works for both one-on-one and group chats.  
  • Password Security. Passwords are a vital part of data security and they’re often vulnerable to attacks. Password security system contains several features including HTTPS authentication, password encryption, password complexity standards, CAPTCHA and account lockout.
  • Session-Only Cookies. Session-only cookies keep the information in the browser memory until the browser is closed.

How to Build these Chat Security Features Yourself

If you’re looking to build a chat app with safe chatting on your mind, you’ll be glad to hear you don’t have to build all these features by yourself

But if you must build it yourself, here are five main things you need to know and plan for:

  • Significant capital investment
  • Choosing the right infrastructure is critical
  • Dev budget must include server costs, encryption, scaling, and more
  • Other costs associated with personnel, hosting, compliance, security, etc.
  • Significant time investment is required even with all costs accounted for

By opting for CometChat’s SDK, you won’t have to spend time developing everything from scratch and worrying about compliance, as those security features are provided out-of-the-box and only require minimal effort to integrate them into your new secure messaging app.

How CometChat Secure Users’ Data and Ensures Chat Privacy 

CometChat is one of the most secure chat solutions you’ll find in the market. As the Founder of CometChat, Anant Garg, explains: “We are secure in transit (TLS/SSL) and secure at rest (AES-256). We are also SOC 2, ISO 27001, HIPAA, and GDPR compliant. We also have an end-to-end encryption extension that encrypts all conversations at the device level, similar to WhatsApp.

Furthermore, CometChat also has a disappearing messages extension that allows users to send messages – both in one-on-one and group conversations – that disappear after a certain period of time.

How to Build a Secure Chat App With CometChat

After seeing how CometChat ensures that users’ data and privacy are intact, let’s see how you can build a secure chat app with CometChat using its SDK and extensions.

The truth is building a basic chat app isn’t that hard. However, building a more complex chat solution with rich functionality such as email notifications and sentiment analysis proves to be a harder task. As our Founder, Anant Garg, highlights: “Scaling chat functionality can become complex also, but this is something we've easily handled out-of-the-box at CometChat.”

CometChat’s comprehensive extension library allows developers to create robust and modern chat solutions and integrate them into their existing technology stack. Furthermore, the ease of building chat apps with CometChat is one factor that makes this SDK unique in the market. Developers of any level, even non-coders, can effortlessly build and launch custom chat solutions with CometChat.

Compared to competitors who usually offer their product only via cloud, CometChat offers an on-prem deployment which allows customers to have greater control over security, helping them meet security and compliance requirements.

Final Words

Tech development has brought a wide array of benefits, however, they frequently come at a hefty price: our privacy. 

Knowing how to protect yourself online is important, and those who build chat applications should go above and beyond to provide their users with a seamless and safest experience.

Some of the most popular chatting solutions have developed complex methods for keeping users’ privacy intact and that’s the lead every chat app provider should follow.

To effortlessly build a chat app that users feel safe with, start here: CometChat Pro SDK.

About the Author

Nabeel Keblawi, a deaf entrepreneur, runs a Content Marketing and SEO agency that helps B2B SaaS companies grow organically in their industries around the world. His previous work experience involved software development, renewable energy, and cloud computing. In his personal life, Nabeel loves to go hiking with his family, and dust off his skis to hit the slopes given the chance. He is also an avid reader of fictional history.

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