Early internet users are bound to remember AOL Instant Messenger, aka AIM, the near ubiquitous messaging app of the early 2000s. If you used the internet back in its early days, the chances are good that you and your friends knew this popular program with its yellow stick figure icon and used it regularly for chatting. However, like all things, AIM had to eventually come to an end. Similar to its parent company AOL, AIM has found itself outdated as users switched over from desktop messaging to mobile messaging in droves over the last 10 years. There just wasn’t the demand for a service like AIM any more, so at the end of 2017 the service was officially shut down.
If you’re a former AIM user, you’ll be looking for an option for a new messaging service to use. One issue that wasn’t given much thought back in the 2000s but which is a major concern now is security. With messaging being so popular now, many hackers try to target messaging apps, and governments try to pressure messaging services to hand over data about people they are investigating.
If you want a messaging app is secure and that will keep your data private, then you need to look around to find a service with good levels of security. We’re here to help with this, with our recommendation for six secure alternatives to AIM now that the service has shut down.
Secure Alternatives To AIM
When searching for a new messaging app to use, as well as the features you would think of like platforms supported, support for sending images and videos as well as text messages, and integration with your operating system, you should also consider security features like the availability of end to end encryption and two factor authentication. Here are six secure alternatives to AIM to consider:
Signal was one of the first messaging apps to have an explicit focus on security, so it became a pioneer in the field. It uses the Open Whisper System which is an open source project, which is good for both transparency and security – this is because it’s easy for anyone to search the code and so security flaws are found very quickly. Other good security features of the app include end to end encryption which is run on the platform’s own infrastructure rather than using another service such as Google’s Google Cloud Messaging (GCM) network, which many other messaging apps use. The app has lots of functions including the ability to send attachments as well as messages, the ability to make voice calls, and a group messaging function. One feature that Android users will appreciate is the ability to make Signal your default SMS app for convenient and secure messaging.
Telegram has been getting a lot of press recently for its moves into the cryptocurrency market. But before the company got interested in the blockchain, Telegram had already established itself as soon of the most secure and widely used messaging apps. The apps can sync messages across devices, and it supports massive groups of up to 75,000 members which has made it popular for business use. The security features include options for end to end encryption and secure chats, and you can send video and audio files securely as well as text messages. Another security advantage of the Telegram system is that you search for users by name, not by phone number, so you never have to give your number to the app if you don’t want to and your contacts cannot see your phone number. The high level of security offered by this app has lead to it being singled out by British Prime Minster Theresa May as potentially dangerous as users can send messages without them being intercepted by the government – which is just what most users want to see from their messaging app.
If you’re looking for anonymity as well as security, then Threema is the messaging app for you. Its unique feature is the ability to create and use a Threema ID which is not linked to your phone number, email address, or name. You can add this information if you want your friends to be able to find you, but if you want to remain anonymous then you can do that too. Then you can use the Threema system to send text messages, voice calls, group chats, and file attachments, all through encrypted messages. Another nice feature is that the details of your friends and contacts are stored on your device, not in the cloud, which makes it much more secure. Best of all, messages are deleted immediately after delivery, which makes it practically impossible for anyone to track your communications.
Wickr started off with an aim at business clients, making group chat features available which were designed for teams and enterprises to use. At first, the app used closed encryption which meant that its security was hard to assess, so it wasn’t clear if this app was a good choice for secure messaging. But last year Wickr chose to make its encryption protocol public and open source, allowing the security community to examine the protocol for any issues. This open source end to end encryption system has proven to achieve a good level of security, and the app has received funding from major donors. If you’re looking for an enterprise-level secure messaging app for your business, Wickr is a great choice.
Wire is an app for both desktop and mobile that can also be used through a bunch of web browsers like Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera. The open source nature of the project generated goodwill within the software community and the fact that it is free attracted many users. It is mostly designed around sending text based messages, though there is a video calling feature too. The app has always offered some degree of encryption – at launch if offered encryption between clients and the company – but now it has full end to end encryption to protect your privacy. The encryption protocol is based on Signal, which is a popular and well-tested methodology. However, some security concerns have been raised as although the contents of messages is private, the app does store a list of names of users who you have contacted which means that outside observers could trace the relationships between you and the people you are messaging.
Finally, we should mention one of the most popular messaging apps: WhatsApp, which has hundreds of millions of users across the globe. The company has a commitment to freedom of speech, driven by the experiences of Ukrainian CEO Jan Koum’s experiences with state censorship when he was growing up. However, the fact that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook means that many people are suspicious of the platform’s security and commitment to privacy. Facebook is infamous for aggregating huge amounts of data about its users, and people suspect that WhatsApp could be part of this data collection activity too. There are some good points about WhatsApp’s security, like its use of end to end encryption and the availability of two factor authentication for the app. The reason that most people opt to use WhatsApp is simply convenience – there are so many people who use the service already that it’s likely your friends already have the app. The app has theoretically good security features but those who are concerned about privacy will probably want to opt for another messaging service due to the involvement of Facebook.
Improve Your Messaging Security With A VPN
If you are concerned about your internet security in general and about preserving your privacy when using messaging apps in particular, then it’s good practice to use a VPN. This is a piece of software which encrypts all of the data that you send over the internet – whether it’s internet traffic, downloading files, or instant messages. This encryption makes it difficult or impossible for any outside observers to read your messages or to track your internet use. Not even your ISP will be able to see what you have been doing online and who you have been messaging.
In order to protect your privacy and enhance your security when using messaging apps, we recommend you try one of the following VPNs:
ExpressVPN is a great VPN for those who want the best of all worlds in terms of security, speed, and support for many platforms. The security features in this VPN include the use of strong 256-bit encryption to ensure your traffic is not intercepted and a no logging policy which means that the company will never keep records of your internet use. The connection speeds are super fast, so you won’t need to be slowed down whether you’re browsing, chatting, or downloading large files.
A subscription to ExpressVPN gets you access to a hug network of more than 1000 servers in 90 different countries which are available for your use, so you’ll be able to easily find a server that meets your needs and to get around any region locks that you come across with no problems. One of the most handy features of ExpressVPN for frequent messaging users is the wide range of platforms that are supported. You can install your VPN on any device you use to chat, including desktop or laptop machines running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux, or use the browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, plus you can install on mobile devices and tablets running Android and iOS. You can even install the software on your games console and some smart TVs so you can be protected whichever device you choose to use.
IPVanish is our top pick for a VPN with lightning fast connection speeds, making it perfect for users who frequently need to download large files or who want to stream high definition video. But the service doesn’t only offer fast connections – it has great security too. The security features include the use of strong 256-bit encryption, a no logging policy, and security options in the software like the use of a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and the option for a periodically changing IP address.
This speed and security is delivered over a network of more than 1000 servers in 60 countries, including all the key locations you might want to use like the US, Canada, the UK, Sweden, Hong Kong, Japan, and many more. This means you can browse the internet as if you were anywhere in the world, which is great for getting around region restrictions. You can install the software on the key platforms of Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, and Android.
NordVPN is the ideal choice if your first and greatest concern is security. Of course, the NordVPN service uses the strong 256-bit encryption that you would expect and also has the requisite no logging policy to protect your privacy. But the special security feature that makes NordVPN stand out is its option for double encryption. The way double encryption works is as follows: in the first step, your device encrypts any data that is to be sent over the internet and diverts this data to a server owned by your VPN provider, just like any other VPN. But then, at this first server, double encryption encrypts the data for a second time before sending it on to a second server. At the second server, the data is decrypted and sent to its original destination. These two layers of encryption mean that it is practically impossible for anyone to hack your data and see your messages or internet traffic. Further security features include options to use special servers to get features like anti DDoS, dedicated IP, double VPN, onion over VPN, and P2P.
The connections on NordVPN are not as fast as some others, but are still plenty fast enough for regular internet use like browsing, messaging, downloading, and streaming. The server network is absolutely huge, offering more than 3300 servers in 59 countries to meet all of your needs. You can install the software on your devices running Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS devices, or you can use the browser extensions for the Chrome and Firefox browsers.
RIP AIM, a piece of internet history. Though if we’re being really honest, it was probably about time that AIM was retired and you chose something more modern as your messaging app. With security now being a big concern for messaging apps, we’ve recommended six alternatives to AIM that have better security features to keep your messages private, like end to end encryption or two factor authentication.
Have you tried out any of our recommended messaging apps, or is there another secure messaging system which you prefer? Let us know about it in the comments below!