There is no question that being anonymous while messaging is important when using online messaging apps and services. This may sound like straight paranoia, or come off as a surprise to some, but it is indeed fact. We are now living the reality of a typical ‘hacker’ movie scenario. An explosion of digital communication channels has taken place with the ongoing digital transformation of the past few years. With that, we must remember to be vigilant while using messaging apps. These facts can be backed up by research statistics, evidence, and good, sound, common-sense reasons. Online messaging apps are extremely popular and have in most cases completely replaced classical styles of messaging such as SMS. A lot of people, in fact, prefer to use messaging apps today even replacing their email habits. The general population will eventually migrate all of their private and business-related communications to messaging apps. The reasons for this are quite simple. Online messaging is the most practical, quickest, and simplest way to reach someone (or a group of people.) It is also the simplest way to share data. However, aside from the myriad benefits and practicalities, it is important to understand the threats involved with using messaging apps as well as how to prevent simple mistakes that can spell trouble.

What are Cyber-Threats?

Cyber threats, simply put, are online dangers. A cyber-threat specifically refers to a purposeful, malicious act perpetrated by an individual or group. The ultimate result of a cyber-threat can be damage or theft of data or disruption to the targeted victim of a cyber-attack. Cyber-attacks occur every few seconds on average and affect practically every online organization (or will affect them at some point.) Every day, malware orchestrated by cybercriminals flow around the internet, scraping cyberspace, and are designed to damage, steal or disrupt data. This is why practically every SMB (small to medium-sized business) will be affected by some sort of cyber threat sooner or later. The average cost of a data breach in the United States has risen to over $4 million, and about 90% of data breaches globally occur due to human error alone. A lot of this happens due to improper security practices concerning messaging services (as well as social media.)

Here are the most commonly found types of cyber-threats circulating constantly;

• Phishing and other social engineering scams, illegitimate websites

• Ransomware and APT attacks aimed at large organizations

• Other forms of malware in the form of attachments and ads

As far as messaging apps go, there are specific cyber-threats that endanger anyone unarmed with cybersecurity knowledge using a messaging app. Today, some of the most popular messaging services are; WhatsApp, WeChat, Discord, Google Duo, Viber, and many more. Such messaging services can easily be susceptible to the following threats;

• Hackers (cybercriminals)

• Government espionage

• ISP espionage

• Data collection

How to Handle Messaging Cyber-Threats

From the above, you will see that there is all the more reason to be wary of messaging apps and brush up on your cybersecurity skills and knowledge. To avoid any messaging service headaches down the road, it is absolutely essential to digest the following recommendations and tips;

• Make sure that you are using a messaging app that is end-to-end encrypted

• Use a premium Virtual Private Network or VPN at all times on your devices

• Use a transparent, open-source messaging application if possible

• Ensure good password security across all devices

• Ensure that the messaging app has some form of MFA (multi-factor authentication)

• A solid messaging service will have strict standards for third-party communications

• A proper messaging app will satisfy regulatory compliance requirements

• Make sure that your messaging services have DLP (Data Loss Prevention)

For large, commercial tech companies that offer messaging services such as WeChat, WhatsApp, Twitter, and even Slack to name a few, keeping these services that cater to a vast number of people across the world secure is a gargantuan challenge. The sector is having to apply regulations, digital risk monitoring, data sharing guidelines, and third-party policies to try to reduce the risk of cyber-threats. As more and more critical information is present throughout digital communication channels, the need for cybersecurity grows with it. To make this into a simple, visual analogy; We’ve got more and more hungry sharks circling us for a bite to eat each day in water that is becoming less and less transparent, and a lot of us don’t know how to swim or fight these sharks. In response to cybersecurity threats, and thankfully growing cyber-awareness, millions of people have moved away from commercial-grade messaging services, preferring privacy and security-oriented services such as Telegram or Signal, to name a couple. This is certainly a step in the right direction, especially since large messaging services are known for data breaches and scandalous data leaks.

Finally, let’s add some common sense factors to this list that are not technical in nature. Human error is the number one reason for data breaches, so that means the most important behaviors we need to make into habits would be to avoid sharing sensitive data via messaging apps, and communicating with suspicious individuals. Simply being aware that cyber-threats do exist, and that they will target you at some point in time, is a good start.