Telegram Review – NOT as Safe and Secure as You
You can find lots of free messaging apps out there. But finding a free messaging app that is also secure, and has enough users to make it worth using, is a lot harder. Today we’re going to talk about Telegram.
Telegram is totally free, and with over 200 million active monthly users, it certainly is popular. But is Telegram secure and safe? That’s one of the things we’ll be investigating in this in-depth Telegram review. So let’s dive in and see what we can discover.Now we’ll briefly touch on the main features of Telegram messenger.
Telegram pros & cons
- End-to-end (E2E) encryption
- Encryption algorithms: MTProto, a custom protocol
- Open source apps and Telegram Database Library
- Self-destructing messages
- Users can be logged in on multiple devices simultaneously
- Supports Two-Step Verification
- GDPR compliant
- Registration requires a phone number
- E2E encryption only for Secret Chats
- Has not shared any Transparency Reports
- Servers are not open source
- Logs IP Address and other user data
Feature summaryHere are some key features to consider when deciding whether Telegram is right for you:
- Code for the open source parts is available on GitHub.
- Telegram apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Mac OS, Windows, Linux, popular browsers
- In excess of 200,000 active users
Telegram company background informationTelegram Messenger was created by brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov in 2013. With over 200 million active users, it is one of the most popular messaging apps in the world. The company is headquartered in London, with the development team based in Dubai. The company is funded through a donation by Pavel.
Where is your Telegram data stored?Telegram has a hybrid system for storing your data. By default, all your message data is stored on your devices. However, you can remove data from this local cache, and store it on Telegram’s servers. This allows you to balance your desire for privacy against the need for data storage space. Those Telegram servers are located throughout the world as part of a distributed network.
Telegram third-party testing and auditsI wasn’t able to find any published third-party audits or other formal test results for Telegram. What I did find was a lot of criticism of the Telegram security model and of Telegram’s MTProto encryption scheme. We’ll go into this in more depth at the end of this post. This is somewhat of an outlier, and it is surprising that Telegram apps have not been subjected to an audit. For comparison, both Wire and Signal have undergone third-party audits.
Telegram messenger hands-on testingFor purposes of this review, I used the Telegram mobile app for Android, along with the Windows Desktop app. Since Telegram focuses on the mobile experience and requires you to join the service using a mobile device before you can use a browser or Desktop app, we’ll concentrate on the mobile side of things first.
Telegram Android appInstalling Telegram on an Android phone involves downloading the app and registering your phone number. This is similar to Signal messenger, which also requires a phone number to use the service. You can either download the app from the Google Play store, or download the Android APK directly from the Telegram website. Once you finish installing and registering your account, you will be able to use the Telegram app to communicate with other Telegram users by text, voice, photos, video, group messaging, and channels (subscription broadcasts). File sharing is also supported.
Working with TelegramOpening the Telegram app shows you a list of your Telegram contacts. If you’ve used any of the popular instant messaging apps, the interface should look familiar to you: Tap a contact to see the full chat thread containing your conversation with that person, group, or channel. This is all pretty standard stuff; the kind of stuff you would expect to find on any of the best messaging apps. However, Telegram offers several other features that help explain why this is one of the most popular secure messaging apps.
Additional Telegram app featuresGoing beyond basic messages, Telegram has interesting and useful features like these:
- Groups – Supporting up to 200,000 members per group, Telegram group chats helped protesters get organized during the mega-protests of 2019. Apparently, both groups and channels were used by the protesters, resulting in a large DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack against the service. Telegram stated that the IP addresses of the computers involved in the attack were mostly Chinese.
- Channels – Channels allow you to broadcast messages to an unlimited number of Telegram users. This feature was also apparently used during the Hong Kong protests. A recent addition to Channels is a way to view detailed statistics about channel viewership.
- Instant View – Instant View is a system to, “…view articles from around the Web in a consistent way, with zero loading time.” If you receive a link via Telegram, you can tap the Instant View button to instantly see a version of the page that has been optimized for viewing in Telegram. Because the page is cached in Telegram’s servers, it downloads in a split second. Instant View isn’t available in the desktop versions of Telegram.
- Bots – Bots are computer programs that run in Telegram. They have a wide range of capabilities, and anyone with a reasonable level of programming skills can write and publish their own.
- Live Locations – Share your location live in a chat for 15 minutes, one hour, or eight hours. If multiple users share their live location within a group, they are shown on an interactive map.
- Telegram Passport – Telegram Passport is an encrypted way to store your identity documents on Telegram servers. Once stored here, you can easily share them with services that require real-world IDs.
Telegram Desktop clientsInstalling Telegram Desktop on your desktop is just like installing any other app. It only takes a moment to download, and seconds to install. Once you do, Telegram opens and asks you to enter the telephone number you used to register your mobile app. Alternately, you can click the Quick log in using QR code link and follow those directions. Either way, you’ll soon see the familiar Telegram user interface translated onto your desktop. Telegram officially supports the following desktop platforms:
- Mac OS
- Linux (64 bit and 32 bit)