Telegram vs Signal: Which is the More Secure Messaging App in 2024?

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A public storm is brewing between Telegram and Signal, with Telegram taking shots at Signal in a bid to capture the privacy messaging market.

Both sides claim to have the most secure messaging system, and we are going to explore Telegram vs Signal from a security and encryption, perspective and try to solve the issue once and for all.

Whether it is messaging apps to connect with family and friends or for business, privacy is needed by everyone — the days when users and companies could not care less about how messaging apps (or any other digital service) managed their data are behind us.

Our focus today is not on usability, but where the data is stored, what methods of encryption are used, how safe the platform is, and what privacy and security features they offer.

Key Takeaways

  • Signal offers superior privacy with end-to-end encryption by default for all messages. Telegram only encrypts messages in “Secret Chats,” while standard chats are stored on their servers with server-client encryption.
  • Signal stores minimal data and messages on your device, not on servers. Telegram stores all messages and data on its cloud servers by default.
  • Signal’s open-source code makes it transparent and allows for scrutiny and independent security audits. Telegram’s core functionality is closed-source.
  • Signal is widely considered the more secure messaging app due to its end-to-end encryption by default, minimal data storage, and open-source approach.
  • However, claims from any privacy-focused company must be scrutinized, and Telegram’s easy-to-use features may be better suited for some users.

The New Telegram-Signal War and Scandal

On May 8, Telegram’s CEO Pavel Durov, took to his Telegram channel to accuse Signal of not being secure and having ties with U.S. intelligence agencies.

“…the current leaders of Signal, an allegedly “secure” messaging app, are activists used by the U.S. State Department for regime change abroad.”

It should be made clear that Techopedia and other tech outlets and security experts have no good reason to think these claims are valid.

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Adding fuel to the fire, Elon Musk jumped into the messaging privacy ring. After advocating for Signal’s security for years, Musk now has had an apparent change of heart. Musk criticized Signal and referred to unspecified “known vulnerabilities” in his business-as-usual cryptic high-profile criticism.

With Telegram about to hit one billion users and is expected to become profitable next year, the company is competing hard as it shops around for interest in an effort to go public and join tech companies that trade daily on Wall Street.

On the other hand, Signal isn’t taking part in the public slanging match. And it might not need to argue back. Despite Telegram’s claims, Signal is widely considered to be the safest and most private messaging app in existence today. But do you agree?

What Drives Users Who Prioritize Privacy

While CEO comments and famous celebrities do add a nice twist to the rivalry between apps, users should choose carefully when deciding what app they trust their life communications with.

So what moves the decision-making of a user who prioritizes its privacy?

We propose the key features include open source or closed source, data storage and transfer, encryption, and security features.

Now let’s dive into each of these tech core fundamentals and uncover what Signal and Telegram bring to the table.

Telegram vs Signal: Security Features

Feature Signal Security Telegram Security
Encryption End-to-End Encryption

Messages scrambled on sender’s device, only decrypted on recipient’s device.

Server-Client Encryption

Messages encrypted between user and Telegram servers, not end-to-end. Secret Chats offer optional end-to-end encryption.

Protocol Signal Protocol

Open source, peer-reviewed cryptographic protocol.

MTProto

Proprietary protocol, not publicly audited.

User Data Cloud Storage

User data is stored on users’ devices, but not on Signal servers.

Messages stored on Telegram servers by default.

Disappearing Messages

Users can set messages to disappear after a set time.

✅ – Secret Chats only

Secret Chats offer disappearing messages. Standard chats do not.

Source Code Open Source

Code publicly available for scrutiny.

Closed Source

Code not publicly available.

Signal vs Telegram: All You Need to Know

Open or Closed Source?

Open source does not automatically solve all the world’s problems, but it can bring a lot of confidence when security is key.

In essence, anyone can download and inspect the source code, and new changes can also be inspected by thousands of eyes.

The Signal Protocol, a cryptographic protocol that provides end-to-end encryption for voice and instant messaging conversation, began life in 2013, and has been implemented by most other secure messaging systems (more on that below).

With 11 years and counting behind it, and any security professional welcome to inspect its code (which happens constantly, from individual to large-scale third-party audits), a certain level of trust and confidence based on evidence can be given to the protocol.

This compares to Telegram’s closed-source system, and one where, in most instances, messages are kept centrally on Telegram’s servers.

Security Protocol

The Signal Protocol protects messages with end-to-end encryption. This means only the sender and receiver can see them, even if someone else tries to intercept them.

It’s used by billions of people worldwide and by many messaging apps besides Signal itself.

The Signal Protocol was developed in 2013 by Open Whisper Systems, a non-profit group of software developers. The protocol is today considered the industry standard for end-to-end encrypted messaging and is used by big names in the tech industry.

Services that use the Signal Protocol, either entirely or with closed source modifications, include:

  • Signal
  • WhatsApp
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Skype
  • Google

Telegram uses its in-house MTProto to scramble messages to keep them confidential. It uses a combination of powerful encryption techniques to make sure only the sender and receiver can read them. But it is a proprietary protocol, and not publicly audited.

While some chats, such as “Secret Chats” offer end-to-end encryption, by default messages are stored on Telegram’s servers.

Encryption

As mentioned above, all of the messages, content, and media on the Signal app are encrypted end-to-end. The encryption happens at the users’ device level.

The default Telegram encryption only takes this approach with Secret Chats. The rest of the private or public messages sent on Telegram are encrypted under a Server-Client Encryption model.

End-to-end encryption means that the data can only be accessed and read or heard by intended recipients.

Where They Store Your Data

The first big difference between Signal and Telegram is what they do with your data and where they store it.

Signal: Data on Your Device

Signal encryption makes this important “your-data” issue straightforward. The company does not store your personal data, conversations, chats, media, or history on servers or the cloud. Instead, it stores all user data locally on the user’s device within an encrypted database.

Signal may queue end-to-end encrypted messages on its servers when, for example, a message is sent to a device that is momentarily offline. Even then, all messages are end-to-end encrypted, meaning no one, not even Signal can see them.

For operational purposes Signal stores minimal technical information on its servers, such as randomly generated authentication tokens, keys, push tokens, and other material that is necessary to establish calls and transmit messages. But never user data.

Telegram: Your Data in the Cloud

On the other hand, Telegram refers to itself in its privacy agreements as a cloud service. This means that user messages, photographs, videos, content, contacts, documents, and groups are stored in their cloud servers rather than within the Telegram app (except Secret Chat data).

Telegram assures that this method allows users to access backups from any device and that the data is heavily encrypted with encryption keys spread around different servers.

Storing personal user data on the cloud versus storing it on their own devices has pros and cons, but in this case, on-device data outweighs the cloud, as the risk of cloud security breaches and data leaks is ever-present.

Secret Chats

Those who use the Telegram feature Secret Chats get end-to-end encryption. Secret Chats sounds like something impressive to have, especially for a privacy-focused messaging app.

So why doesn’t Signal have a similar feature? The answer is simple.

All messages sent on Signal can be considered secret chats as they are all end-to-end encrypted. In contrast, Telegram only applies end-to-end encryption for Secret Chats and content or media shared over Secret Chats.

Public and private messages, media, contacts, and location on Telegram are not end-to-end encrypted (as mentioned above, they are stored in the cloud).

Disappearing Messages

Another feature that both companies offer is Disappearing Messages. Signal allows users to set, customize, and manage Disappearing Messages. Users can set Disappearing Messages as default for new chats or specific groups, through their privacy settings.

Once the time (Signal provides up to 4 weeks) of the disappearing message ends, the data of that message is deleted.

Telegram offers Disappearing Messages only in Secret Chats, not in public or private chats. Users can send self-destructing messages on Telegram by tapping on the clock icon in the input field on iOS or the top bar on Android and choosing a time limit.

Both apps offer view-once (Disappearing) media, for users who want to share videos or other types of content that automatically deletes itself after being viewed.

I’ll Pass on Both: Alternatives to Signal and Telegram

If Signal and Telegram don’t quite fit the bill, there are other secure messaging apps to explore. Threema, based in Switzerland, is a strong privacy contender. It encrypts all messages end-to-end and lets you register without a phone number. However, its user base is smaller compared to Signal or Telegram.

For those prioritizing disappearing messages and anonymity, Wickr Me offers strong encryption and impermanence features. Keep in mind that Wickr Me’s interface might have a steeper learning curve.

Even some mainstream options like WhatsApp and iMessage have implemented end-to-end encryption in recent years. While these might be convenient choices for users already within their ecosystems, it’s important to research their data storage practices and overall privacy policies to make an informed decision.

Signal vs. Telegram: Expert Advice

To end the report, Techopedia leaves you with a couple of comments from are experts sources who have publicly weighed in on the matter. Remember, in the end, it is you, the user who needs to decide which messaging app is the best for you.

Waseem Mirza, award-winning former BBC News Technology Presenter and host of #TheFutureTECHShow, said:

“In the battle for messaging app supremacy, security often trumps fancy features. So, when it comes to Signal versus Telegram, the crown goes to Signal for its watertight encryption.

“You can think of it like this: Signal is Fort Knox for your chats, while Telegram is a regular bank – secure, but with a back door a court order could potentially open.

“If top-notch security is your priority, Signal’s your personal soldier. If you value features and flexibility more, Telegram might be a better fit.”

Stephen Kowski, Field CTO at SlashNext, said:

“Signal is the more secure choice. Signal offers end-to-end encryption (E2EE) by default, whereas Telegram requires activating a “Secret Chat” to get E2EE. Signal’s protocol (the Signal Protocol) is open source, independently audited, and is used to underpin messaging apps like WhatsApp and Google messaging services.”

“Telegram’s backend is closed source, they use the MTProto protocol which is

generally considered secure but lacks the same scrutiny/transparency as the Signal Protocol.”

Cache Merrill, Founder at Zibtek, said:

“I believe Signal is more secure. They encrypt end-to-end all the time, no matter what, and Telegram requires you to toggle the chat into secret mode so it is encrypted. Plus, Signal collects and stores almost no information about me, so there is really less information risk.

“Telegram has a lot more features, and it is pretty cool, but if security is the top priority, I would definitely choose Signal.”

We also recommend a close read of Matthew Green, cryptography teacher at Johns Hopkins, recent tweet thread, which explores Telegram’s latest claims against Signal in depth.

The Bottom Line

Privacy should be paramount in any conversation about messaging. Perhaps you can take fewer precautions if you are messaging little more than a cat meme around family members.

But any conversation usually creeps toward revealing personal information, or private thoughts — and things said in private should come with the guarentee that they remain private.

We lean with the majority verdict that Signal has stronger security credentials when it comes to private conversations, although there is a reason why Telegram has more than 900m users — it’s convenient, fast, and mobile-friendly.

We highly recommend you do your own research and decide your own requirements and level of privacy before pressing the message button.

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Ray Fernandez
Senior Technology Journalist
Ray Fernandez
Senior Technology Journalist

Ray is an independent journalist with 15 years of experience, focusing on the intersection of technology with various aspects of life and society. He joined Techopedia in 2023 after publishing in numerous media, including Microsoft, TechRepublic, Moonlock, Hackermoon, VentureBeat, Entrepreneur, and ServerWatch. He holds a degree in Journalism from Oxford Distance Learning and two specializations from FUNIBER in Environmental Science and Oceanography. When Ray is not working, you can find him making music, playing sports, and traveling with his wife and three kids.