How to use secret chats on Telegram

Many people around the world have migrated from WhatsApp to Telegram following a controversial update to WhatsApp’s privacy policy.

Facebook recently issued a notice within WhatsApp informing users that they need to accept its updated terms of service and privacy policy or lose access to the app.

This privacy policy update allowed WhatsApp to share user data with other Facebook services.

Telegram founder Pavel Durov claimed that this caused the biggest digital migration in history, with Telegram seeing an unprecedented surge in users.

It is important to note that while Telegram does not access as much personal data as WhatsApp, it does not feature end-to-end encryption by default as WhatsApp does.

This is an important point – as end-to-end encryption ensures that even if your chats are intercepted or accessed by the messaging app itself, they cannot be decoded.

By default, Telegram chats are not end-to-end encrypted, which means it is technically possible for your conversations to be compromised.

Users can enable this functionality, however, using Telegram’s “secret chats” option.

Secret chats

Secret chats are end-to-end encrypted, and all the messages, media, and files you send to others within a secret chat are undecipherable by Telegram or malicious interceptors, as only you and the recipient have the decryption key.

Additionally, secret chats are not stored on Telegram’s servers – they are only stored on the devices of the sender and recipient.

It is important to note that secret chats are only available on the iOS, Android, and macOS version of Telegram.

Many users might miss the secret chat option, as it is accessible from an options menu within a contact’s profile.

To start a secret chat, follow the steps below:

  • Open the profile of the contact you would like to start an end-to-end encrypted chat with.
  • Tap the three-dot or “More” menu in the corner.
  • Select “Start Secret Chat”.

This opens a new chat which is secured by end-to-end encryption as well as functionality for disappearing messages. You can set the time after which messages will be deleted via a clock icon in the message input field.

There is currently no support for the end-to-end encryption of group chats, which means the content of messages you send over group chats is potentially accessible by Telegram.

It is also important to note that while WhatsApp and Signal both use the open-source Signal end-to-end encryption protocol, Telegram’s secret chats use MTProto, which is its own proprietary protocol.

Security and privacy concerns

There are a number of Telegram group chats in South Africa which are unsavoury or facilitate the illegal sale of goods.

Many of these groups function using Telegram’s location-based chat features, which allow you to find people and groups nearby and share your location with the application for this purpose.

However, not only is it possible for someone to triangulate your position if this feature is enabled, but these group chats are unencrypted.

This means that if legal authorities requested Telegram to provide them with messages from these group chats, the company may acquiesce due to the messages being stored in an unencrypted form on its servers.

South Africans have been warned of the potential dangers of Telegram’s location-based chat groups and if they are switching from WhatsApp to Telegram for security reasons, they should enable Secret Chats and refrain from sharing their location unless they are cognizant of the security risks.

Kaspersky recommends that if you are especially concerned over your privacy and security when using Telegram, you can take the following steps:

  • Use a separate or virtual phone number to sign in to Telegram.
  • Use a VPN to hide your IP address (which Telegram can disclose at the request of law enforcement agencies, for example).
  • Consider using another app such as Signal or Threema. These apps encrypt all chats by default and have extra privacy options, but lack some of the features that attract users to Telegram.

Now read: Beware Telegram location-based chat groups in South Africa

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How to use secret chats on Telegram