How brands can find the most secure messaging app for business use

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Cristina Constandache
CRO at Rakuten Viber
How brands can find the most secure messaging app for business use

(Originally published on The Drum, March 2021)

Messaging is the most personal way to communicate digitally, not only between people and their friends, families and colleagues, but also between brands and their customers. More and more brands are embracing messaging as a more human and effective way to speak to their customers. But some remain resistant. They usually have two main questions: Can they trust messaging apps as a secure way to send sensitive information? And what steps are messaging apps taking to ensure brands' messages are secure?

Messaging’s march: entering a new era of customer communication

Whenever a new technology emerges, or an existing technology is used in a new and innovative way, it prompts fears of it being misused or leaking customer data. To allay this fear, it’s useful to look at the example of how technology has revolutionised banking in recent years, and inexorably improved the relationship between bank and customer.

Time was, any banking that required sensitive financial or personal information meant a long, drawn out process: you had to gather up all sorts of documents verifying who you were, trudge down to your local branch and spend hours in a queue. Mobile technology has improved this dramatically. Now, all you need is a phone to open or close an account, move money, edit payments or do virtually any other type of banking. Both businesses and consumers have benefitted from the change. And while now we might take it for granted, when it first arrived, mobile banking was regarded with suspicion by many who saw it as unsafe.

The same is true of messaging apps today. And just like mobile banking, messaging apps like Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are opening a whole new way for brands to communicate with their customers.

How to pick the most secure messaging app for your brand

If you’re looking for what is the best secure messaging app, you need one that will tick certain security boxes.

  1. End-to-end encryption This is something of a gold standard when it comes to security. It means that messages are encrypted (i.e. scrambled into an incomprehensible code that any hackers will be unable to decipher) on the sender’s device before they are sent. The messages are only converted back into readable text once they arrive on the recipient’s device. That way, even if they are intercepted by hackers along the way, they won’t be able to be read. 
    End-to-end encryption primarily applies to private chats between individuals. For businesses wanting to send messages to their customers, the closest thing is encryption in transit.
  2. Encryption in transit Encryption in transit is used when messages are sent not by an individual but through a brand’s platform using an API protocol. As soon as the message is sent (it’s “in transit”), it’s encrypted, and is only decrypted once it reaches the messaging app’s back-end system. The back end then encrypts the messages again before sending it back to the user or service.
    Encryption in transit provides an exceptionally high level of security for brands who can rest assured their messages are safe from hackers.
  3. Messages not stored on servers Messaging can be so much more secure than email because the messages aren’t stored on the messaging provider’s servers. With email programmes, your emails are stored on the provider’s servers. Chances are, your email provider then allows other companies to read your emails in order to serve you with targeted ads. But a trustworthy messaging app involves no such invasions of privacy.
  4. The https protocol Wondering how to decide what is the most secure messaging app? HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is a must.
    It means a secure connection between the partner’s protocol and the system used by the messaging app. It’s another level of security that will protect any messages the brand sends out to its customers.
  5. An IP whitelist A good messaging app will also have a way of verifying incoming business messages to guarantee that they're coming from who they should be, and not scammers pretending to be the brand. This is done using an IP whitelist limitation.
    This means the messaging provider only accepts messages from external partners from certain IP (Internet protocol) addresses. These IP addresses have been duly accepted, verified and set up on the messaging provider’s system. That way, if a message purports to be from a partner brand but is actually sent from a different IP address, it will be rejected by the messaging provider and won’t be sent on to its users.
    Now you know what security provisions a messaging app should take, you need to think about your priorities as a business, and how you will use messaging to achieve your business goals.

Getting the message: how messaging apps trump email marketing

For many businesses – especially banks and other financial institutions – security and delivery time are the most important aspects when choosing how to communicate with their customers. They want to deliver messages in the safest, and most convenient way for their customers, and also in the most cost-effective way.

Messaging excels in all of these areas. It can be cheaper to send messages via messaging apps than with traditional SMS, and messaging apps have a much higher open rate than emails – one study put it at 75 percent, which is over 45 times higher than email and nearly three times higher than push notifications. Messages sent via messaging apps can also have more characters than traditional SMS – in some cases, 1,000 versus 160 for SMS.

Even though messaging is a great choice for communicating with customers, they may still be wary about receiving communications from your brand in this way. Let’s look at some of their concerns and how you can address them.

Putting the customer first: allaying their fears, communicating more

Security will be the most pressing concern for most customers. As long as you choose a messaging app with the security features mentioned above, and you communicate this with your customers, their minds should be put at rest.

The other major concern is whether the entity they are communicating with is actually the brand it purports to be. Some messaging apps have several measures in place to verify this – for example the message sender will appear as the company name rather than just a mobile number. The sender will also have its own profile replete with company information like an official logo, physical address, phone number if you want to call them up, and a blue tick showing they have been verified by the messaging app as an official partner brand.

Lastly, users can rest assured their messages will stay confidential once they arrive on their devices. That’s because the most secure messaging apps for business don’t display the contents of the message on the lock screen notification – instead, all the user sees is “1 new message”. To read the message, they will have to unlock the device and open the messaging app.

It’s all about giving customers the confidence to use messaging in this way. Once they have that, we’re sure they will embrace messaging as a tool to communicate with brands in a manner that’s quick, safe and convenient for both parties.