Text messages contain some of our most private conversations and sensitive information. While texting is convenient, the default message apps on our phones do little to protect privacy. With the right tools and knowledge, you better secure your text messages and keep your communications private.
Text message vulnerabilities
The main vulnerability of standard text messaging is the lack of encryption. Encryption scrambles messages during transmission so only the intended recipient read them. Without it, messages sent over cellular networks or WiFi potentially be intercepted. Carriers and attackers with access to network traffic “read over your shoulder.” Text messages are also stored unencrypted on your phone and your carrier’s servers. Someone with physical access to your phone could easily read your messages. Carriers hold message logs that are requested by law enforcement or hackers. Short of encrypting every text, there are still steps you take to reduce these vulnerabilities:
Enable encryption in default apps
Some default texting apps have encryption options, but many are disabled by default. For example, on iPhone, you enable end-to-end encryption for iMessage in Settings > Messages. It secures texts between Apple devices. Android Messages also supports an RCS Encryption standard for keeping messages private. Check your Android settings to enable encryption options available in your default messaging app.
Use ephemeral messages
Ephemeral or “self-destructing” messages offer a degree of privacy by automatically deleting messages after read. It reduces the risk of later finding texts on your phone or backups.
Limit message content
Even if you can’t encrypt everything, you still exercise caution about what details you include in unsecured messages. Avoid sending confidential information like passwords or sensitive personal details over standard SMS. You should treat public messaging apps like postcards.
Use coded or vague language
When discussing sensitive topics via unencrypted texts, use vague language that doesn’t directly reference the real issue. Develop code words to use instead of direct terms that would reveal private details. Messages are not clearly understood even if intercepted. Just make sure recipients know how to interpret your coded language. Find out more about private messaging at privatemessage.net
Enable text backup encryption
Text messages may get backed up to cloud services like iCloud and Google Drive. While convenient for restoring messages when you get a new phone, cloud backups can be hacked. You enable encryption for iCloud and Android backups to increase security. Just be sure to keep backup passwords/keys safe. Encrypted backups are unrecoverable without the right credentials.
Delete texts frequently
Make a habit of periodically deleting texts you no longer need-especially sensitive ones. The fewer old messages stored on your phone and in the cloud, the less data is available for potential access. Avoid maintaining a big searchable archive of texts. On iPhone, you set messages to auto-delete after a year or 30 days from Settings > Messages > Message History. Use phone administrative settings or apps like Dumpster to regularly delete old texts.
Use disposable numbers
Some apps like Burner and Hushed let you create disposable and masked phone numbers. You text people from these alternate numbers while keeping your real number private. When you’re done with a conversation, simply discard the disposable number. It allows communicating more anonymously for privacy. It also helps avoid disclosing and storing your permanent mobile number in offline text logs tied to the disposable number.