If there was anything we learned while we were all quarantining at home, it’s that all the data we have in our devices might not be as safe as we’d like. Anything not made completely and totally private and encrypted is subject to interception or scraping, indefinite storage, analysis, use, and misuse. This is usually in the name of ad revenue, but occasionally in the name of things far more nefarious, such as unemployment fraud or other identity theft.
However, over the past several years, this issue has been being addressed from both mobile and desktop devices. Many of these are just a lot of hype with no true security; while others are extremely secure, but very limited because of that. Of course, nobody has come up with the perfect, happy medium yet. However, we at Awnix have become very partial to Signal as an acceptable compromise.
Signal’s website is full of great information about their services, but here we’ll just break down a few tips and tricks to keep in mind for everyday data use…
Of course, to use Signal you will need to have a compatible device, as well as Signal itself.
If you’re an Android user, you can set up Signal as your primary messaging app. Then, you can use it for end-to-end encrypted Signal messages, as well as unsecured SMS/MMS texts from within Signal.
You will have to confirm whether or not your message is secure prior to sending.
The text entry field will show Signal message if the message is end-to-end encrypted through the Signal app, while it will show Unsecured SMS if not.
However, an important thing to note is that the person receiving your message must also have the Signal app for it to be secure.
If you use an iPhone, you won’t be able to set up Signal as your system-wide default messaging app. Since Apple iMessage is already end-to-end encrypted, all is not lost from a security perspective. However, iMessage does link identifiable data to you so anonymity can be lost. In cases where that’s a deal-breaker, you can use the Signal app instead. This means that the receiver has to have the app as well for the message to send.
Signal also has a desktop version that can be very handy for professional correspondences, or simply as a secure way to communicate with friends and family.
You can enable notifications on Signal so that you never miss a message if you like to listen to things on your headphones throughout the day.
To WiFi or not to WiFi
Since Signal is primarily a means to transmit data via VoIP, texts, images, or other file formats, it has great features for how to manage that data. You can choose to use a mix of both cellular and WiFi data when needed, and you can also strictly use in-network cellular or data roaming.
However, a small issue we have noticed is that the Signal app seems to have difficulty handling the switch between cellular and WiFi. For example, you may start a Signal call on WiFi; but if you continue the call as you leave the area, call degradation and audio lag will get to the point where it’s quicker and easier to redial than wait for the transition to cellular. This might not be an issue when you’re on a person-to-person call, but it may be if you’re leading a teleconference!
If you know you’ll be relocating during your call, consider turning off the WiFi beforehand, so you can keep up with the best quality throughout (although this will use up cellular data).
Over the last year or so, Signal has received a huge popularity boost – part of this is due to folks migrating from other apps that have received negative publicity, while others may have become users simply for improved security compared to whatever means they were using to communicate before.
In the past year, Signal has grown in popularity for it’s secure communication features for devices of all kinds. However, because of this, the service can’t always keep up with the demand, and this can limit use within the network.
For example, Signal messages will sometimes take minutes to transmit from one user to the next, even if they’re sitting side-by-side, while call quality may drop to the point that the call itself has to be reestablished even if local reception is still strong. These issues have pushed Signal to take steps to solve and minimize these issues, but they do still happen occasionally. In our opinion though, this is a small price to pay for a secure service that won’t steal your data.
Whether you’re looking for a secure messaging and call app for your mobile device or desktop, Signal is a good start. It might not be the most feature-rich secure messaging solution out there; but it makes up for this with strict security, relative anonymity, and strong cross-platform support. Plus, it is open-sourced, which means others are quick to point out potential security flaws as they’re discovered. Increased investment in the service by outsiders and its continued growth suggest that it will remain a top contender in the secure messaging space for years to come.
Looking for some more tips and tricks for using Signal or another secure messaging service? Ask us at Awnix! We are always happy to help.