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What are anonymous chat apps?

Bob from the Ciphr Team
October 28, 2020 - 10 min read

What Are Anonymous Chat Apps?

As social media use continues to grow, and details of many peoples lives are becoming publicly accessible online, a clear division is forming between two types of people; those that seek to release as much information about themselves into the digital realm as possible and those that seek to protect their personal information.

With this divide growing, so is the use of anonymous chat apps which have been exploding in recent times. Popularized for their ability to connect users without revealing their identities, anonymous chat apps provide the perfect platform to securely share private information about yourself without the worry of potential hackers being able to know that it is your information.

It does seem ironic that hiding your identity enables you to disclose very personal information about yourself. However, there is also huge comfort in knowing that the app developer isn’t mining your confidential conversations and information to support their own objectives.

There are many benefits and reasons as to why businesses should use anonymous chat apps. We’ll explain more about business-related benefits in this article.

Let’s take a quick step back and discuss in more detail what an anonymous chat app is. For starters, it’s not just an encrypted messaging service. WhatsApp is an example of an encrypted messaging service - and clearly, it’s not anonymous.

In contrast, anonymous chat apps allow you to chat or email through secure channels to other anonymous users, concealing your real name and contact information. You can actually chat under a randomized alias or email address.

Taking it one step further, they’re also apps that collect as little information about you as possible, from account set-up to usage data. So, even if security is compromised for any given reason, it’s hard for an attacker to identify you. Therein lies the beauty of the concept!

Anonymity isn’t necessarily about hiding. It’s about being able to use technology for its core purpose (in our case communicating) and only sharing personal information with the contacts you trust.

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Anonymous Chat Apps: Common Names & Misconceptions

Skype has become a household name as an online video chat app. What you might not know is that Skype now allows anonymous users to use their video call, and other features too.
Telegram is another app where you can chat under a nickname so as to not reveal your identity. Whisper is a third name that you might have heard of - it allows people to find others with shared interests, encouraging meaningful discussions with strangers.

Some people associate anonymous chat apps strictly with online dating, but it’s really only a very small part of the story. They can be used for a myriad of different purposes; according to this study, people feel more comfortable being honest when there’s a “lack of accountability for what they said and lack of connection to their real world identity.”

Security for the Corporate Realm

As it pertains to businesses, anonymous chats provide the perfect platform to conceal the identities of business contacts, celebrities, public figures, journalists and their sources. They use secure communication channels for the best defense against hacked information. If anyone was to somehow access the chat’s content, they would still not know who is sending or receiving the messages.

Will corporate demand for anonymous chat increase over time? Lets explain things further with this example. In May 2020 a high-profile law firm, Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks, with a client roster that includes names like Lady Gaga and Drake, fell victim to a serious cyber-attack. The hackers, with a notorious reputation within the cyber realm, claimed to have access to 756 gigabytes of data, including highly sensitive information such as contracts and personal emails. They reportedly demanded a significant sum of money to keep the data private.

Had the law firm been using an anonymous chat app to securely communicate, would the cybercriminals have been able to achieve the same result? If the identities of these clients are concealed, the data loses its value significantly. Despite managing to break the encryption, the use of anonymous chat apps would have prevented the hackers from knowing who the protected communications were really between.

Along those lines, within anonymous chat apps, there are actually two types of anonymity:

  1. Anonymity of the creator of information shared. This is so that hackers can’t identify the person who sent a message, but an authorized contact can.
  2. Anonymity within the app for contacts who are approved to communicate but wish to remain unidentifiable by the receiver of the communications. So, if you send a message but you don’t want people knowing it’s from you, this is your feature.

Anonymous Chat Apps and Bots: An Emerging Security Issue

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There’s a growing security issue with the use of bots in anonymous chat apps, and mainstream brands like Telegram are not immune to the threat. Let’s use Telegram as a case study to illustrate the issue. The app enabled the use of bots in 2015, allowing users to embed them in chats or public channels for a particular purpose, i.e. accepting payments or producing memes.

To implement a Telegram bot, all you need to do is just add them to your chats or channels in the same way you would add a friend. They’ve become a popular feature of the app, but here’s the million dollar question: Are they secure? The simple answer is no, not really.

The problem with them is the lack of sufficient encryption. Although Telegram bots are encrypted, they don’t use the same algorithm that Telegram uses to protect your data, MTProto. There can be a heavy price to pay because adding a bot to your chat can compromise its security and increase the likelihood of a third party interception.

According to a study conducted by Forcepoint, the security of Telegram chats with bots is significantly reduced. The researchers were able to infiltrate a bot, giving it access to the conversations the bot was present in.

The simple remedy to this issue would be to not add bots to your Telegram chats. However, if you’re in a group chat this isn’t always possible. Other users may have added bots to the chat, thereby compromising your security indirectly. The next best thing would be to keep the group chat members to a minimum to keep the risk of infiltration as low as possible. Even this isn’t really a solution to the problem at its core.

In a nutshell, even the biggest contenders in the world of anonymous chat apps are not always secure. When using these apps, you are often leaving your data vulnerable. That's why apps that combine the best features of anonymous chat apps with a privacy-first approach to encryption, such as Ciphr, can pave the way for the best of both worlds. It’s important to remember that anonymous does not always equate to secure. Even within the realms of anonymous chat apps, you should be ensuring that you’re using a secure app too.

As always, if you have any questions about Ciphr, we’re more than happy to help! Just drop us a message.

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