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Telegram chats are not end-to-end encrypted by default



A finger tapping a large Telegram app icon on a smartphone.
Arthur_Shevtsov / Shutterstock.com

Telegram and Signal are very popular privacy-focused messaging apps. However, the two apps have some major differences: while all messages sent via Signal are always end-to-end encrypted by default, Telegram messages are not. End-to-end encryption is an optional feature in Telegram.

Why end-to-end encryption is important

End-to-end encryption means that only the sender and recipient of a message can see its contents. Even the company running the server in the middle of the calls cannot see the content of the communication.

With Signal, all conversations are always end-to-end encrypted: the Signal Foundation cannot see the content of the messages.

With Telegram, the company responsible for Telegram is technically able to see the content of the messages on its servers.

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7;s still some encryption in Telegram, of course: encryption is used to send messages between your Telegram app, Telegram’s servers, and the other person’s Telegram app. Your internet service provider, network operator, and any third parties that sniff your internet activity will not be able to see the content of your communication. (That’s a big improvement over traditional SMS, which lets your cell carrier see all of your messages!)

If Telegram’s servers were ever hacked in the future, the attackers would be able to see the contents of people’s Telegram conversations. However, if Signal’s servers were hacked, the attackers could not see the conversations.

Telegram and Signal are very different in this way. Telegram is much more of a traditional messaging application. It syncs your chats between your devices and stores them in the cloud. If you don’t care about end-to-end encryption, that’s fine – and Telegram’s features can certainly come in handy.

But if you’re sending sensitive information – or if you just want to make sure your conversations aren’t being sniffed at – you should use end-to-end encryption.

How to encrypt messages in Telegram end-to-end

You don’t need to switch to Signal to use end-to-end encryption. It is built directly into Telegram. It’s just an optional feature that most people are not aware of.

Only “secret chats” are encrypted in Telegram. To use Telegram’s end-to-end encryption, you must start a secret chat by tapping the person’s name, the “More” or menu button and “Start secret chat”.

Secret chats appear separately from non-secret chats in Telegram’s chat list. For secret chats, Telegram shows the person’s name in green next to a green padlock icon. If you are already talking to someone, you will see two separate conversations in your list.

A secret chat versus an unencrypted chat

In a secret chat, you can also enable a self-destruct timer for messages so that they are deleted after a specified time. (Of course, the person you’re talking to can always take a screenshot of your conversation for safekeeping if they want.)

RELATED: How to start an encrypted secret chat in Telegram

Telegram cannot sync its secret chats

Due to the end-to-end encryption, secret chats do not sync between the Telegram app on multiple devices. A secret chat on one device stays on that device. So if you start a secret chat on your phone, you cannot continue that same secret chat on a tablet or computer. It stays on your phone.

Signal is designed from the ground up for end-to-end encryption, so it can optionally sync end-to-end encryption between your devices. With Signal, you can link the app on your phone to another device, such as a Windows PC, Mac or iPad. You can have your calls across multiple devices without sacrificing end-to-end encryption like you should with Telegram.

Telegram cannot encrypt group messages end-to-end

Telegram offers huge group chats with up to 200,000 people in a channel. However, in Telegram only one-to-one conversations can be encrypted end-to-end using the “secret chats” feature.

Signal supports up to 1000 people in a group chat. However, those group chats are always end-to-end encrypted. If you want end-to-end encrypted group chats with three or more people, Signal is the app to choose.

In other words, Telegram’s group chats are ideal for large public channels with thousands of people, while Signal’s group chat feature is ideal for private conversations with a smaller number of people.

Signal is best for end-to-end encryption

Signal apps showing the conversation list and conversation.
Signal

Telegram is undoubtedly a polished messaging app with a slick interface. It’s great that it also offers the option to have a secret chat with end-to-end encryption.

However, if you really care about end-to-end encryption, you should use Signal instead. In Signal, encryption isn’t an optional feature – it’s built into every call you have. All of Signal’s features – including message sync between devices and group chats – work with end-to-end encryption.

That ease of use is very useful for getting people on board with secure, private chats. If you want to have end-to-end encrypted conversations with your friends, family members or colleagues, it will be much easier for them to use Signal. The end-to-end encryption “just works” in all conversations, and you don’t have to explain to them the difference between secret chats and non-secret chats like you would with Telegram.

Telegram and signal are just different

So which is better, Signal or Telegram? They are different. As of early 2021, Telegram will clearly have a shinier, more polished interface, with nicer stickers and chat backgrounds. It’s also ideal for major public channels, making it almost like a social network.

However, if you’re looking for end-to-end encryption so that the company running the chat app can’t see your messages (and they can’t be accessed by hackers compromising the company’s servers), Signal is the best option .

Fortunately, Telegram offers at least end-to-end encryption as an option. If you ever need to send sensitive information (e.g. financial details), you can switch to a secret chat for that.

RELATED: Signal Vs Telegram: Which Is The Best Chat App?




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