Encrypted chat has gotten a lot of hype over the last few weeks. My chat of choice is Signal. If you're not aware of it, Signal is an end-to-end encrypted messaging application for iOS, Android, and desktops (in the form of a Chrome app).
A lot of my non-cryptography friends have asked me what the whole hype about "end-to-end encryption" is. In a handwavey fashion, it means that only the endpoints of the communication have the keys necessary to read the message sent. Usually when we're talking about messaging apps, the endpoints are the two phones (or devices) that are communicating.
(As a side note, please do keep asking me cryptography questions. I love sharing this knowledge, and half the time you ask some really weird question that I don't know the answer to, and then I gain knowledge in the process of researching the answer. I'm like 1-800-dial-a-crypto-novice.)
Now, I have to do the standard encryption disclaimer: encryption is great, but it's not everything. It will not hide the existence of the messages you send, nor will it hide the identities of the sender and receiver. Sometimes security is sacrificed in favor of usability, and you have to configure your settings in a way that fits your concerns. Most importantly, in some environments, the very fact that you're sending an encrypted message will set off red flags.
And that brings me to the main purpose of this post: why do I use Signal?
Well, I don't think the government is out to get me. I also don't think Apple is spying on me. (Well, mostly.) I'm not up to anything nefarious. So why encrypt?
I use end-to-end encrypted messaging because if, in the future, a situation came up where I suddenly did need to send an encrypted message, it doesn't raise any red flags that I suddenly started doing so.
The chances that I will ever need to use this are extremely low. But the benefit if I ever do is pretty high. If I'm ever afraid to the point where I do need to hide my communication, I will be very grateful that I've already established this habit of using encryption. That way, whoever is monitoring me won't say, "ah, she started using encrypted chat, she must be up to something." They'll say, "well, that sure looks the same as all the communication she's been doing over the last ten years."
Look, I don't know what the future will bring. Certainly, I'm a little bit paranoid. But given the way things are going right now, it's feasible that I might need to start hiding my communication in the future. And if that were true, I would probably want it to look like there was nothing out of the ordinary. I have lost all faith in humanity's reasonableness, especially here in the United States. It just can't hurt to be prepared.
And really, the app is quite usable, with about the same functionality as iMessage circa 2012, with an accompanying desktop app. (I do sort of wish they had chosen to make it something other than a Chrome app, but oh well, we can't have it all, I suppose.) I've convinced most of my friends to use Signal, too, so it's basically the same as normal texting.
If, in five years, nothing bad has happened, then I lose nothing. And if, five years from now, something bad does happen, I'll be ready. Win-win.