Communication tools have become vital for many modern companies, particularly because the rise of remote work means that not all business owners, executives and employees are in the office daily. Communication apps allow business leaders, regardless of where they are, to communicate and share important files and documents easily.
However, privacy remains a major concern for many companies as the threat of cybercrimes grows each year. The last thing business owners want is their valuable intellectual property, future business plans or confidential customer information to fall into the wrong hands because they weren’t using a secure communication app when discussing sensitive matters. For businesses looking to keep key personnel connected without taking unnecessary security risks, Signal may be the answer.
Signal is an encrypted messaging app developed by the nonprofit Signal Technology Foundation. The organization’s mission, as stated on its website, is “to develop open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication.”
Signal is a cell-phone-based messaging app. If you already use messaging apps, you may already be familiar with a lot of Signal’s features, including these:
The Signal app shares much of the look and feel of WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram and other platforms. Like those apps, Signal is linked to a cell phone number.
Signal uses end-to-end encryption to prevent others from seeing the contents of your messages or hearing your calls. It creates an encryption key for every action you take using the app and sends the decryption key only to the people you’re interacting with. The key is stored only on the recipient’s cell phone, not on Signal’s servers. [Learn about using data encryption in the cloud.]
To do this, the app uses the Signal Protocol, which is not exclusive to the Signal app; rival private messaging apps also use it but in a less private way than Signal does. Consider these examples:
Signal stands out from competing messaging apps for several reasons. For example, the program recognizes a user only by their cell phone number. Data encryption is the default position on Signal, meaning users don’t have to switch it on, unlike with WhatsApp, Messenger and Skype.
Signal doesn’t store or retain any messages, videos, documents or other data transmitted over the app’s network. Furthermore, the program cannot decipher any data in transit. This helps ensure your private information — professional or personal — stays confidential.
There are no ads or trackers on Signal, either. There is no way for private companies or public agencies to advertise on the platform (although they are not barred from the app). At the very least, this means the app isn’t tracking your user behavior and giving this data to third parties that want to exploit that information for ad targeting.
These are some of Signal’s other notable security features:
In the eyes of many experts, Signal is far more secure than rival platform Telegram, which was previously thought to be the most secure widely available messaging app. Telecom and security expert Paul Hanner, chief technology officer of communications company Metavoxx, said Telegram isn’t as secure as people think it is.
“Telegram does not use end-to-end (E2E) encryption by default and not at all in groups, so it is necessary for both parties to set up a secure chat to enable full E2E encryption,” Hanner told business.com.
“On the other hand,” he continued, “WhatsApp and Signal both encrypt messages end-to-end, over the local network and internet, so they can’t be intercepted and read. And with the inclusion of [two-factor authentication] using a PIN, Signal also protects your account from being breached by SIM card cloning.”
Ultimately, Hanner said, “Signal wins on end-to-end encryption, and Telegram has the lowest security, with WhatsApp in between.”
Signal is available on iOS and Android devices, as well as on Windows and Linux computers, but you must install the app on your mobile phone before you can use it on a desktop.
Compared with other private messaging apps, Signal’s combination of privacy and security features should give business owners and other professionals the confidence that it’s a secure means of exchanging confidential data. These are the top reasons Signal can be beneficial for sharing private business information:
As a business owner, there are many practical reasons why you’d want to use an app such as Signal for sharing confidential information. Maybe you’re exploring a merger with a rival company and you and the fellow CEO want to keep these early talks on the down low. Perhaps your executive team is developing a new product and you don’t want any details to leak. Or maybe there is new data you need to share without leaving a paper trail. Whatever the case, Signal is ideal for such scenarios.
No app is perfect, and you should keep some vulnerabilities in mind when using Signal, Hanner said. He recommended taking additional actions to protect confidentiality to the fullest extent possible.
“In addition to locking your phone, you should also use Signal’s screen lock just in case someone steals your phone in an unlocked state,” Hanner said. “If that happens, there’s no barrier stopping the thief reading the contents of your messages. Reporting your phone lost or stolen to get the SIM deactivated does not deactivate the Signal app.”
Furthermore, despite Signal’s strengths, “nearly all countries now require SIM registration,” Hanner added. “So even with an encrypted message, the metadata alone will give away your identity and who you are speaking to. He advised adding another layer of security by using a virtual private network (VPN) to conceal your IP address. However, you’ll have to make sure that the VPN doesn’t keep logs of your data.
Signal has strong brand advocacy among its users, many of whom are famous — or infamous — precisely because of their communication habits.
Signal itself once pointed out on Twitter that even Mark Zuckerberg uses its app when the Meta CEO could just use his own Messenger app instead. If these tech-savvy public figures are trusting Signal for their confidential communications, business owners may be wise to do so as well.
Signal is a great tool for confidential communication, and it’s widely available — but will that always be the case? The company’s president, Meredith Whittaker, told The Verge in 2022 that it would discontinue service in any country where the government tried to interfere with its encryption and privacy measures.
Hanner predicted that “open-source encrypted and [peer-to-peer] message apps will at some point be banned because they offer real anonymity and security to users.” As an alternative, he suggested business owners carry out communication over messaging apps that don’t require a cell phone number. That’s because “these kinds of message apps when used with a VPN make the metadata meaningless because it can’t be attached to an identity,” he said.
“They also offer E2E encryption and are classed as Web 3.0 and in some cases [peer-to-peer], so they don’t rely on a single corporate-owned central server that all messages pass through,” he added. Products on the market include Element, Session, SimpleX and Delta Chat. They allow many of the same video, voice-calling, messaging and file-sharing features available on Signal, but they use decentralized networks of servers.