By David Nield
In recent years we've all become a lot more paranoid about what's happening to our data - the data we send in emails, in instant messaging conversations, and whenever we access the web. It's enough to make you want to stay offline forever to avoid being spied on.
But before you unplug everything and go and live out your days in a Faraday cage, give these super-secure apps a run out. They all feature built-in tools for keeping your information safe, so you can stay in touch with the wider world without as much worry.
Signal (Android, iOS) is as good as it gets for the ultimate in secure messaging apps. It keeps your chats safe with advanced end-to-end encryption that the experts have approved, and none of your data is ever stored or accessed by Signal itself - quite a contrast to anything made by Google, then.
It's free to use and open source as well, so anyone can take a peek at its code and verify its authenticity, and it will happily replace your existing messaging and calling app. There's support for group chats, but the team is still working on a tablet version, which is perhaps the only mark in the negative column.
WhatsApp (Android, iOS) manages to score highly in some areas of security and not in others. What it has had since last year is end-to-end encryption, so no one - not even WhatsApp employees or the government - can spy on what you're saying. Of course it has a bunch of other great features as well for chatting, calling and so on.
Balanced against that is the fact that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which as we know is pretty hungry for as much user data as it can get its hands on. It's not so much what's in your chats as details like your phone number that businesses can use to advertise to you that Facebook's interested in, so bear this in mind.
Silent Phone (Android, iOS) is made by the same team that came up with the Blackphone - billed as "the world's most secure smartphone" - so they should know what they're doing when it comes to mobile security. These apps for Android and iOS devices come with a whole host of extra protection for your mobile chats.
There's encryption covering everything - chats, video calls, file transfers and more - and most of the security features work automatically in the background. You even get an auto-destruct option on your text messages, if you want to feel like you're in a Mission: Impossible movie the next time you're on your mobile.
Viber (Android, iOS) may not be as well known as some of the bigger names in messaging, but it has a rock-solid security setup that implements end-to-end encryption and stops anyone from peeking at what you're saying to friends, family, or whoever it is that you might be chatting to through your smartphone.
On the surface though, Viber is just a fun messaging app, complete with stickers, group chats, public chats, audio and video calls and more besides. You don't need to worry about jumping through any hoops or configuring any menus to get the app up and running, just dive in and start using it.
Threema (Android, iOS) appears to take security more seriously than just about anyone else, encrypting all of your conversations and giving you the option to chat completely anonymously if you've got some government secrets to leak. Aside from that, it's still got all the features you need from an instant messenger.
It has some pretty cool extras available as well, such as support for Android Wear, and the option to put a poll to your friends if there's a topic you want an opinion about. Meanwhile, its developers say as little data as possible is kept on its servers about its users and their activity through the app.
Dolphin Zero (Android, iOS) deals with all of the stuff that you normally leave behind when you browse the web - cache files, cookies, a history of where you've been and what you've looked at, and so on. As soon as you quit the browser after your surfing session, all of that data is automatically wiped from your handset.
It's a bit like running in an incognito browser window all the time, with no traces left behind, and it's perfect if you don't want other people snooping on what you've been up to online. Apart from that auto-erase functionality, it has a clean and straightforward interface, and make getting around the web a breeze.
Brave (Android, iOS) is a mobile web browser focused on two primary objectives: being fast, and blocking any ads that might be trying to spoil your experience of the web. If you're worried about websites collecting personal data on you, then Brave is definitely worth a try on your smartphone or tablet.
Brave prides itself on being simple and straightforward but there are some handy features here as well - it's actually based around the bones of Google's Chrome browser, so you get all the usual bookmarking and private browsing options, as well as the intuitive tabbed interface that Chrome is known for.
Opera Free VPN
Opera Free VPN (Android, iOS) takes a lot of the mystery and hassle out of running a virtual private network (VPN) on your mobile device - it basically just works, which is all you can ask, hiding your location and personal details from ad trackers and helping you stay safe when you're on public Wi-Fi networks.
It works with any browser you've decided to install on your phone or tablet, not just Opera's own, and once you've got it up and running you can forget about it. The same VPN technology is built into the desktop browsers Opera releases for Windows and macOS, if you want to give those a whirl too.
- Secured your phone? The next step is securing your home as well