How safe are text messages?

20 September, 2016 by Ouriel Weisz

In 2016, digital privacy and security are some of the biggest talking points of our time. From cookies, Facebook connect and password keychains to leaked documents and security breaches, we are constantly being made aware that we face security risks. However this is truer for some risks than for others. For example not many people are aware of the risks of text messaging.

Insecure messaging

This may come as a surprise but text messaging is not secure. According to VentureBeat, “SMS security codes aren’t safe and should be avoided.” As with email, a text message is forwarded from your client device (for example your mobile phone) to a server, whose job it is to route it to the destination which may, in turn, belong to another mobile network. Once it is sent on the right path it is held in a mailbox until it is picked up by the phone at the other end. This leaves plenty of scope for something to go wrong . It’s clear from this to see why concerns are being raised.

Although it is true that text messages are encrypted while in transit, this does not cover all the potential threats to privacy or information security. It is still possible for information to be copied, retained and intercepted. Devices too can be cloned. It does not happen a lot but it is worth remembering that telco operator system admins are able to decrypt messages if the need arises. The very fact that the possibility exists leaves us and our information vulnerable.

Considering the alternatives

So if text messages aren’t safe, what should we use instead? For instant messaging with friends, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger now offer end-to-end encryption. These services share the content of your messages with advertisers, which in itself is a bone of contention in today’s privacy debate.

Thankfully for those using an iPhone, iMessages are protected by Apple’s stamp of encryption. The company is known for its dedication to privacy, notably its refusal to unlock devices belonging to suspected criminals , and this may bring some comfort to users of its products. However by definition, the protection provided by iMessage only works between two iPhone users, so sending messages to those without still leaves you vulnerable to the same risks.

Secure messaging for enterprise

Unsecured personal messages are one thing, but sharing confidential business information via text message can have very serious repercussions that could leave a company liable to outside threat. Research has shown that it is commonplace for employees to exchange confidential work messages via various instant messaging platforms, and some even share such materials with non-employees. According to a survey conducted by TigerText, “most employees text using un-secure channels.” It is essential therefore for businesses to protect their own interests by providing an alternative and more secure method for enterprise communications to take place.

As users move increasingly toward a mobile first world, any business messaging platform needs to focus on mobile communications. It must also keep up with the latest features and functionality to avoid being superseded by other less-secure but well-liked applications. According to Wired, “by not picking a place to congregate, we’re missing out on one of the most powerfully useful new things in tech: the all-encompassing messaging app.”

While security may be a top priority for the business as a whole not every employee feels the same way. Unless the business selects a platform with a full range of popular, up-to-the-minute features they may be tempted to use a less secure but more attractive alternative.

Navigating secure messaging with NURO

So how safe are text messages? Well, as we’ve just seen the answer is not very. One option is to use a secure messaging service. NURO’s service is one example. It offers military-grade encryption, anti-malware protocols, administrative controls and disaster recovery so you’ll know you’ve got nothing to worry about.

NURO’s device security controls mean that files can never be downloaded onto devices running the application and can only be viewed in-app, which is true consolation for the fear of leaked documents.

In summary, as email becomes outdated, organizations are looking for new ways to handle their communication – one that can seamlessly transfer from desktop to pocket. NURO’s cross-platform and multi-device syncing is exactly what businesses need in order to make text messaging safe again.