Updated at 05 Apr 2022
We all know Telegram is a popular messenger, like WhatsApp or Signal. However, all these products offer various levels of security.
What do you mean by security? Most people simply use messengers and similar software to communicate with each other. Many have smartphones or installed Telegram on their desktop computers. Thus it's simple to send an emoji to your friend. Security comes to our mind when we want to ensure that this emoji won't be read by anyone else except your friend. If this is such a concern, Telegram supports such a possibility, and WhatsApp, Signal, and some other messengers do.
In short, what is a secret chat in Telegram? A secret chat in Telegram has end-to-end encryption. I.e., the messages in such a chat can be read by two people only: direct participants of the chat. We'll talk about it more in the next sections.
If you don't have the app yet, read more on how to download Telegram.
End-to-end encryption is a secure communication method that prevents third parties from accessing data as it moves from one device or system to another.
E2EE encrypts the data on the sender's device or system. The message is encrypted on the sender's system and device as it travels to its destination. Therefore, it cannot be read by any internet service provider (ISP), an application service provider, hacker, or other entity.
Many messaging service providers use end-to-end encryption. This approach makes it more difficult for providers to share user data with authorities. It also potentially allows private messaging to those involved in illegal activities.
It sounds excellent and complicated? If we put things more simply, E2EE allows people to communicate privately (as we intend this to be). So in a way, even the messenger can't read your transmissions. Alright, let's see how other messengers provide E2EE.
WhatsApp still uses end-to-end encryption but collects more information than Signal. WhatsApp's encryption does not protect you against this kind of data collection. All that metadata is now shared with Facebook's parent company.
This factor means that sensitive data may still be compromised if your information is stolen from the servers Facebook stores it on. Recent news about a 500 million-user data breach does not inspire confidence in Facebook's data security measures.
Signal is a mobile and desktop encrypted communications app. This means that users can send text messages or make phone calls or video calls without outsiders or even the platform. Intercepted messages will look like a string with garbled symbols and text.
Signal's software can be downloaded and copied by others. Therefore, Signal's founders want end-to-end encryption, even if it is unnecessary.
Yes, they are. However, you should know it's not a default behavior. Therefore, the messages you were always sending in Telegram aren't end-to-end encrypted(more details in the following sections). To enable end-to-end encryption, you should start a secret chat.
Click on the "Create" icon on the bottom right and select "New secret chat" to create an encrypted chat. That's all you need.
Secret chats are encrypted, and regular chats are not. Therefore, if you care about safety(you want to be sure that only the person you send messages to can read them), use secret chats. On the other hand, regular chats are more convenient because they are available on all the Telegram clients: on a desktop app on your laptop, on a desktop app on your PC, on a web version, on an Android app, etc.
In most cases, you'd want to message people and be sure that only they can read the information. But, you might ask, who else can read the messages? It's only you and your friend who are participants in a chat.
All the messengers that provide a possibility to send messages should store them somewhere. Otherwise, if you hold the data on one client(your phone), the other participant might not have access to the information because you can be offline. So, consequently, we should store it somewhere else in the central place that is always online. So, on a server(a remote computer on a cloud).
Since messengers store the information you share on their servers, they can read it. Any other websites and services too. How, then, messengers like Telegram tackle the problem of securing the data you share?
They encrypt it. Messengers still keep data on their side with this method, but they can't read it anymore. Telegram takes the same approach with secret chats. When you create one, Telegram creates encryption keys that can encrypt the data you send. Also, Telegram creates another set of keys for the other participant you message. Thus, both of you can send and read messages, but not anybody else, even Telegram.
It's called end-to-end encryption or E2EE. Telegram states it encrypts all the data no matter if it's a secret or a regular chat. It means that even if there is a data leak, it's still a problem to decrypt your messages. With client-to-client encryption(E2EE), only you have the encryption keys, and only you can decrypt data.
So, Telegram uses server-side encryption for all regular chats. Server-side means it encrypts all the data using its encryption keys. If you use secret chats, Telegram uses client-side encryption on top of server-side encryption. You can read more about Telegram's implementation of end-to-end encryption.