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How Secure is Telegram?

So, you’ve made the switch from WhatsApp after learning about its security leaks and holes. But if you’re now using Telegram as your pro-privacy messaging app, it’s worth knowing that it’s not superior in terms of security, it’s just… different.

Millions of users have jumped ship from WhatsApp in favour of its rival Telegram following the rude shock of learning that their data was being shared with Facebook.

But it turns out that Telegram isn’t as watertight as one would hope either. Looking at other messaging apps, it’s important to see what their default security actually does.

WhatsApp and Signal use end-to-end encryption – only the sender and receiver can see message content – on all their chats and calls by default.

Seeing as this is the attraction of using such apps, you’d think that Telegram would follow suit. It doesn’t. It only offers end-to-end encryption in Secret Chats, and voice and video calls.

Since WhatsApp activated end-to-end encryption as its default for more than a billion users in 2016, the use of this technology has boomed as people become savvier about protecting their privacy. End-to-end encryption is now a basic expectation of messaging apps.

When content is sent using Telegram, there are two types of encryption that it uses – cloud-based and end-to-end. Groups, channels and one-on-one chats use its ‘cloud’ encryption. It’s only when two individuals opt to use the ‘Secret Chat’ feature that end-to-end encryption happens.

Using a cloud for data enables Telegram to show and sync messages across desktop and smartphone apps in real time. What it also means is that messages sent via the app are stored on its servers – and therefore are, Telegram says, “theoretically” accessible.

We know what you’re thinking: ‘It’s a messaging app for privacy! Why doesn’t Telegram use end-to-end encryption by default?’

Its founder Pavel Durov says it’s because Telegram is a “feature-rich” app. “Signal represents one feature of Telegram, which is Secret Chats,” Durov wrote on Telegram when its lack of end-to-end encryption was queried. “If you think you need a separate app for that feature only, installing it might make sense for you.”

Durov believes that users favour features over the level of privacy that end-to-end encryption offers. “The minority which doesn’t want any of that and wants to maximise security at the expense of usability is welcome to use Secret Chats on Telegram – or install any of the apps that only have Secret Chats and nothing on top,” he posted.

It’s his belief that removing features such as channels in order to facilitate default end-to-end encryption would “cripple” Telegram and that users are there for more than the secure messaging element.

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