Signal is one of the applications of the moment. This chat has grown together with Telegram in number of users, taking advantage of the controversy of WhatsApp and its changes in the conditions of use that were going to link the data of its users much more with Facebook. Although Mark Zuckerberg’s matrix has clarified some aspects – and the new terms were not applicable for example in Europe due to the GDPR – this did not prevent a transfer or at least a test of many users of other chat systems from taking place.
The big winners of that exodus of which we will have to see what remains in a while were Telegram and Signal. The first is already known to all, but Signal, now paradoxically sponsored by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, has become visible to many users. Open source and with security measures superior to the rest, Signal has been used for years by those most related to privacy. Edward Snowden already promoted her in 2015 as your most secure means of communication. And in Spain, it was also known for its use by Catalan independence politicians.
With now more than 50 million users at least, of the 10 it had only half a month ago, it is time to ask who drives Signal, what really makes it so different, and if it really is so different from other chat applications.
Elon Musk, with you (not) it all started
As we said, Snowden has already been one of the important voices in the dissemination of Signal during its short history. But more recently, in one of his signature short tweets, Elon Musk propelled her further by simply saying “use Signal.”
Signal has already been gaining in popularity since the summer of 2020, when protesters in support of the movement Black Lives Matter used the app to keep their messages safe possible government monitoring.
Following Musk’s tweet, the company explained on Twitter how they had adapted to the large number of new users: “We have been adding new servers and extra capacity at a record rate every day this week without stopping, but today we have even exceeded our most optimistic forecasts. Millions and millions of new users are sending a message that privacy matters. We appreciate your patience, “he said on the social network.
What is Signal and what makes it different
Lets start by the beginning. Signal is a messaging application, like WhatsApp, iMessage, Telegram, or Facebook Messenger, but geared towards privacy and security rather than pretty emojis. Or at least that could be a good catchphrase for them.
Signal is free and is available on Android and iOS, and for mobile and desktop. In addition to the additional security protocols, it includes all the basic messaging tools such as group chats and voice and video calls, plus – yes, just in case – emojis.
As in WhatsApp, Signal uses your mobile number to identify yourself to your contacts, so there is no need to remember new user names or passwords, and you can enter directly. On Android, you can also use Signal to send normal SMS and MMS messages to contacts who don’t have the app installed, but those messages won’t have the same security protections.
His ‘secret’ so to speak, is the protocol you use for your end-to-end message encryption, called Open Whispers Systems and developed by your parent company. The effectiveness of this encryption is such that WhatsApp ended up incorporating it as a standard as well. To this it has also added other extra security measures, such as the use of PINs or the possibility of distorting faces in the photos they send. I said, privacy as a mission.
Signal’s end-to-end encryption is differential because the company can’t read your messages or listen to your calls, and no one else can either. And since Signal doesn’t store any user data on its servers, instead it stays on your device, governments and other agencies can’t request or filter it either.
What’s Behind Signal: A Foundation and Open Source
Also, all the code is open source, so anyone can see how the application is written. Although this does not mean that hackers can break Signal’s encryption in any case, it does ensure that security experts and users can verify that Signal maintains the high privacy standards it claims to have, something that does not occur with other chat apps.
Let’s talk about its origin. Signal is the result of two programs from Whisper Systems, predecessor company created by hacktivist Moxie Marlinspike that launched in 2010: RedPhone, an application for encrypted voice calls, and TextSecure, a platform for encrypted messages. In 2011, Twitter acquired Whisper Systems and subsequently closed RedPhone. That same year, the social network relaunched TextSecure as a free and open source messaging platform.
From the purchase of Twitter to the Signal Foundation
In February 2014, Marlinspike left Twitter to found Open Whisper Systems. This was the time when TextSecure began to look more like the current version of Signal, with end-to-end encryption and instant messaging capabilities. In July 2014, the software was officially renamed Signal, as we know it today.
Years later, the co-founder of WhastApp Brian Acton appears in the equation, who left Facebook after the purchase of his application due to differences in data processing.
Acton met with Marlinspike in February 2018 to create the Signal Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to making private communication “accessible and ubiquitous.” Acton contributed $ 50 million in startup funding after leaving WhatsApp about six months earlier. To this day, Signal continues to maintain your funds solely through donations.
Signal vs. WhatsApp (and other messaging apps)
Both Signal and WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted using the same technology. That means that both the content of the messages you send and the calls you have are private. However, Facebook collects a lot of other information in the form of usage statistics, metadata, etc. Here you can see a comparison that more than in detail, gives an overview of all the data that other apps collect and what Signal needs to work:
Compared to Telegram, the other great app on the rise, the differences are also clear. Telegram says it is also strongly committed to privacy, but it actually has several loopholes. Messages on Telegram are not really end-to-end encrypted by default. Furthermore, the fact that private groups are unlimited in size, that users can join via a link, and are not explicitly moderated, has made it a hotbed of toxic and illegal content.
If there is a but for Signal it is that it does not moderate the content eitherBut it limits groups to 1,000 people, and it’s more about communicating with people who are real contacts than joining groups of strangers like on WhatsApp and Telegram.