Let’s talk about OTR (Off-the-Record) encryption for a bit. OTR encryption is another form of Android encryption, but with a specific purpose. OTR just does what its name implies, it keeps your messages off the record. If there’s no record to read, the only people who will see your message will be you, and the recipient.
OTR encryption gives you the security to say what you want and need to, without worrying about prying eyes getting a hold of the information. If sending an Android message normally is covered in a thin bubble to keep unwanted eyes out, adding OTR encryption adds another three.
This isn’t the only type of encryption, and encryption doesn’t just apply to text. There are ways to send encrypted images with just a few extra steps. If you’re worried about message security, the best way to protect your texts and images is with encrypted messages.
Must Read: How Android Encryption Works
About XMPP / Jabber and How to Set Up a Free Account
Something that’s going to come up multiple times with most of the apps here is XMPP / Jabber. XMPP, formerly known as Jabber, is an open source messaging service that anyone can use, but has more protection once you know what you’re doing with it.
For most of these apps, you’ll need a XMPP account, which you used to be able to sign up for through Jabber directly. Since that isn’t possible anymore, you either need to join an existing server to make an account, or create your own.
You can do all of that here. I’ll lay out how to create an account in a few, small steps.
1. Visit the Site
If you aren’t there already, please visit this website and stay on the homepage.
2. Find a Server
Under “Find a public server,” click the hyperlink to go to the server list, or follow this link.
3. Pick Your Favorite
What server you pick doesn’t matter, but I suggest you pick a server that both has high security, and is based in, or around your country. For this example, I’m picking fysh.in as the server I want to join.
4. Register in Your Client of Choice
The server I picked only supports in-band registration, which means I need to select their server in my XMPP client of choice. You can do this on your PC, or on one of the Android apps I’ve listed below.
In each app I list, if it supports XMPP account creation, I’ll explain how to use the server you picked.
First on the list is Xabber, which is the first of many encryption apps that use Jabber / XMPP to make sure your messages are secure. This works for pictures and text, so if you have a connected account, you can send and receive messages with Xabber.
So now that you’ve downloaded it, how do you get started with Xabber?
1. Start an Account
First, you need to set up a XMPP account, or you can use your Google account. Anyone you’re speaking with also needs a XMPP or Google account. If you don’t have a XMPP account already, you can register one inside of the app for free.
2. Register a New Account in the App
When filling out your username, put your server name after the @ symbol, and then check the “Register new account” button. This way, you’ll create a new account for that server if the server allows it.
3. Add Contacts
Once you’re a part of a server, you can send messages to anyone else in that server by adding them to your contacts list.
Now you’re ready to send safe and encrypted messages to other users on the server, free of charge.
2. PixelKnot: Hidden Messages (Free)
While you can use certain types of encryption to send hidden messages and pictures to people, what about hiding messages in pictures? This is exactly what PixelKnot does, and it’s a fun way to send secret messages to friends and family.
1. Pick a Picture
First, open a PixelKnot, and you’re immediately given the choice to pick a picture from your files, or take a new one to use. Select either, and then continue.
I’m using my Crypt of the Necrodancer lockscreen for a picture, mostly because it has the word crypt in it, and the wordplay on encryption sounded much funnier in my head.
2. Type a Message
Next, type any message you want. Whatever you type, only someone else with the PixelKnot app can decrypt the message inside of it.
3. Set a Passcode or Phrase
Next, you just need a passcode, or even a phrase that your recipient has to type to decrypt the picture you send them. Without this code, and the app, all they’ll ever see is the picture normally.
4. Encrypt the Message
When you’re done, hit the lock button to start the encryption process. This will only take a minute or less, and you can leave the app alone while it ties a few knots.
5. Share the Picture
Now you can share your encrypted message using any app you want, even though PixelKnot only has a few that it recommends you use.
Once the recipient has your “picture” they can open it in PixelKnot, put in your passcode, and decrypt the message
3. Chat Secure (Free)
Chat Secure is another app that uses XMPP servers to secure and encrypt your messages, making sure no one else can see what you say unless you send it to them. What’s unique about Chat Secure over other XMPP clients, is that you have five different ways to interact with the app.
- Connect with a Google account to talk with other Google accounts.
- Connect with your existing Jabber / XMPP account.
- Register a new account from scratch inside of the app.
- Chat with other users who are using the same Wi-Fi connection as you, even without a working internet connection.
- Make a “burner” account with the additional use of the Orbot app for Android.
With five different ways to keep your messages encrypted and secure, it’s hard to overlook Chat Secure.
Creating a XMPP account in Chat Secure follows the same rules as Xabber, so please refer to Xabber’s Step 2 on how to create an account.
Once you’ve made your account, and have connected, you can chat with other users on your server or connection just like any other messaging app.
4. Signal Private Messenger (Free)
Signal is essentially an all-encompassing messenger that lets you send messages and pictures safely, securely, and without extra hassle. Signal doesn’t require your friends and contacts to use the same messenger you are, but responses to your message won’t be encrypted.
With a few taps, you can make Signal your default SMS and MMS app. If you want your contacts to be as secure as you are, there’s an option in-app to invite them to use Signal instead of their old messenger.
Before downloading, I recommend you scroll through the app’s impressive list of features and see which ones are a right fit for you and your encryption needs.
Signal Private Messenger
Signal is one of the least intrusive encryption apps I’ve ever seen. All you need to do is verify your phone number, and then you can use the app like a normal messenger. It’s essentially added security in just a few seconds, and that’s a deal that sounds too good to pass up.
5. Gnu Privacy Guard (Free) (Android 4.4 and Below)
Gnu Privacy Guard fits into an interesting spot on this list. It’s technically an encryption tool on Android, but a finicky one that acts better as a learning tool instead of a message encrypter. This makes this app the training wheels version of its PC counterpart, GnuPG.
If you’re looking for on the go key management, and creation practice, this is an app that can fulfill that requirement. If you’re looking for a messaging app that just encrypts text and pictures without much work, stay far, far away from Gnu Privacy Guard.
Gnu Privacy Guard
If you’re interested in encryption key creation, I highly recommend you look at the GnuPG website to learn more.
6. ProtonMail – Encrypted Email (Free)
Putting text messaging aside, what about encrypting emails? Email is another important method of communication, so it deserves the same encryption treatment as any SMS or MMS messages.
ProtonMail features end-to-end encryption, so only the sender and the recipient can read the email. The app even lets you set a timer on sent emails, so they’ll automatically delete themselves after a set amount of time.
Aside from this, ProtonMail acts and performs like a normal, but good, email app. Even if you don’t use its encryption features, ProtonMail is still a serviceable email application, but if you want to move to it, you need to use a new email address.
ProtonMail – Encrypted Email
Cyphr is a messaging app that uses its own encryption system to secure text messages. To use it, you need to create a Cyphr account, and so does anyone else who wants to receive a Cyphr message.
Because of this, it’s difficult to quickly pick up and use Cyphr as an encryption tool, but it’s an effective one because of its generally low amount of use. The app guides you through all the steps you need to go through to make an account, and all you need to talk to another Cypher user is their email address.
If that email address wasn’t used to make a Cyphr account, your message won’t have a recipient. If you can easily get your contacts to sign up for another service, Cyphr is an easy to use app that doesn’t take long to set up.
8. Safe Camera – Photo Encryption
Safe Camera doesn’t send messages, or photos in encrypted formats itself, but it does automatically encrypt any pictures you take, as you shoot them. Any pictures taken by the Safe Camera are stored in an encrypted gallery that can only be unlocked with a password set by you.
Safe Camera – Photo Encryption
The word encryption is thrown around a lot, but it’s a serious concern in today’s age where your personal data is easily vulnerable. Therefore, it’s important to take extra steps to ensure your data is safe, and always in the right hands.
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