According to one study, 60% of people prefer instant messaging to phone calls. In fact, messaging apps are an essential tool for communication – many people rely on these services to stay in touch with friends, family, colleagues and to interact with businesses too.

This means that people often share extremely sensitive information about their health, personal life, work and relationships via instant message. It also means that it could be extremely damaging if your instant messages were ever exposed.

So what can you do to better protect your instant messages against being stolen or leaked?

1. Enable end-to-end encryption

Hackers often try to intercept data as it passes over the internet – including your instant messages. End-to-end encryption uses cryptography to encrypt messages in transit, ensuring they can only be read on your device and the recipient’s device. Encrypting messages ensures that even if hackers do manage to capture your messages, they cannot read them because they cannot decrypt them.

End-to-end encryption is available in popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, iMessage, Signal, Facebook Messenger and Telegram.

2. Set your messages to self-destruct

Some apps, like Facebook and WhatsApp allow you to auto-delete messages after they have been read (a bit like Snapchat). Enabling this feature ensures that your messages disappear within a specified time limit and that they cannot be recovered from your device or your friend’s.

Other apps, like Apple’s iMessage, allow you to auto-delete older conversations by defining a time limit in the ‘Keep messages’ setting. Any messages older than the specified time frame will be permanently deleted.

3. Double-lock your chat apps

Your phone is protected by a passcode, so why not your apps too? WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram and Facebook Messenger allow you to set an additional passcode to access the app. No passcode, no messaging.

Thieves will have to steal your phone and two passcodes if they want to read your secret messages.

Secure your profiles

All instant messaging apps allow you to block users, but most allow you to control your profile and who can message you too. Check your profile settings to see who can message you and how much information you are sharing publicly (such as location, address, profile pics) etc. The less you share publicly, the less risk of your information being misused by criminals.

Check your backups

Most messaging apps provide backups to ensure you can still read your messages when you switch devices. But if a hacker steals your backups, they may be able to recover your secret chats.

You need to know where your backups are stored and whether they are encrypted. You can then decide where the safest place to keep them is, away from hackers.

Don’t underestimate the risks

Because we use instant messaging apps for everything, they are a goldmine of valuable information for cybercriminals. By following the five steps outlined here, you can protect your privacy and secure your messages against theft.