Signal, Telegram, and VPNs – What You Need to Know
While WhatsApp is considered to be a genuine trailblazer in the field of encrypted messaging services, the Facebook-owned platform has recently lost considerable ground to some of its closest competitors.
This is largely thanks to the wider privacy concerns surrounding Facebook and their use of data, while a poorly explained update to WhatsApp’s terms of service also sent customers running to alternative services like Signal and Telegram.
But what’s the difference between these encrypted communication apps, and do you still need to utilise a virtual private network (VPN) when accessing such services?
Are Signal and Telegram More Secure Than WhatsApp?
The initial exodus from WhatsApp following the botched terms of service update in January 2021 was significant, causing the implementation of the new conditions to be delayed from the scheduled date of February 8th.
During the first three weeks of January alone, Signal gained approximately 7.5 million new users across the globe, while Telegram added 25 million to their customer base as the market reacted to rising security concerns.
But why were Signal and Telegram considered as favourable alternatives to WhatsApp? Well, aside from WhatsApp’s association with Facebook, Signal and Telegram also offer additional encryption features that arguably makes your data far more secure.
While all of these platforms automatically encrypt messages and calls and the data included within, both Signal and Telegram go further by encrypting associated metadata too.
Metadata refers to multiple datasets that provide information about other data, which in the case of messaging apps may include the location of the sender and individual user behaviour. Make no mistake; WhatsApp is known to collate large volumes of metadata pertaining to its users, including your phone number, location and even information about your contacts.
While WhatsApp argues that this information is only stored and used to improve the user experience, it provides a significant security risk and raises fears that your data could be sold to third parties like advertisers.
Conversely, Signal and Telegram have moved to heavily encrypt much of your metadata in addition to all calls and messages, safeguarding user privacy from more angles and ensuring that potentially sensitive information isn’t vulnerable to the machinations of hackers.
Do You Need a VPN When Using Signal and Telegram?
Clearly, it’s recommended that you use a VPN for your Android or iOS device when using WhatsApp’s messaging services. This will protect elements of your metadata (including your physical location) and negate one of the platform’s main vulnerabilities.
But does the same rule apply to Signal and Telegram? To answer this question, we first need to recognise that these platforms haven’t been created equal from a security perspective, so there are some subtle differences pertaining to encryption and the precise data collected.
For example, Signal’s trademark protocol offers end-to-end encryption that collects no data other than your phone number.
Conversely, Telegram features some end-to-end options through the MTProto 2.0 protocol, while encrypting all metadata apart from your phone number, contacts, and IP address.
With these points in mind, it’s also worth accessing the best iOS or Android VPN when using Telegram, as some crucial metadata will be collected by the platform.
These datasets can also be directly safeguarded through the use of a reputable VPN client, which will mask your IP address and physical location while utilising a virtual and encrypted tunnel through which all information is routed.
Interestingly, both Signal and Telegram are also opposed by security experts in some countries and jurisdictions, usually due to the use of comprehensive encryption and premise that this could be exploited by terrorists and similarly nefarious individuals.
Currently, Signal is blocked completely in Egypt, Qatar, Oman, China, and the UAE, meaning that you won’t be able to access the platform at all when visiting these regions.
As for Telegram, several governments have blocked or partially blocked the platform, notably Indonesia, Iran and Russia (although the latter lifted their ban relatively recently).
However, even comprehensive governmental bans can be overcome by using the market leading VPN for Android or mobile, particularly if you prioritise those with multiple server locations across the globe and the most widely used protocols.
The Last Word
Clearly, it makes sense to use a VPN connection when using WhatsApp and Telegram, as neither of these platforms offer complete encryption for metadata sets such as your physical location or user behaviour.
While Signal provides more comprehensive levels of encryption that protect everything apart from your phone number, this messaging service remains blocked in a number of international jurisdictions. The same rule applies to Telegram, so the use of a VPN allows for continued use wherever you travel in the world.
Even on a fundamental level, using a VPN provides an additional layer of security and privacy when surfing online, especially when you’re accessing a public network.