How to Develop a Secure Alternative to WhatsApp

Users' growing mistrust of WhatsApp's privacy policy and Facebook data sharing is creating an excellent opportunity for software companies to create alternative messaging apps.

WhatsApp

Messaging applications are among the most popular mediums people use to interact with others – both personally and professionally. These apps are often open-source and free to download on Android, iOS, and Windows, but privacy features like end-to-end encryption and secure data access have made WhatsApp a preferred choice for business users.

However, the messaging app’s recent privacy policy change has created an enormous uproar. The new policy suggests sharing metadata with associated apps like Facebook. Though it was not known, sharing of such data began in 2016 with the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook. However, the messaging app was denying it until the recent policy change.

Facebook has been central to many data leaks, including the Cambridge Analytica case. Due to this breach of trust, more people are looking for alternative messaging apps to WhatsApp. If you are trying to develop one of these alternatives, here is how to do it.

App Architecture of Messaging Apps

Any mobile application has two major parts – frontend and backend. An app architecture helps develop the frontend and backend and then connects them to provide system response to user requests.

As far as the development phase is concerned, there are many Software as a Service (SaaS) tools that you can use. But, before that, you need a plan to create an app architecture.

Your messaging application scale is one of the most significant aspects you should consider before planning the architecture. Here is a list of things to keep in mind:

  • Future traffic and possible scaling of the application
  • The capability of the backend to handle around 10,000 concurrent user requests.
  • Real-time communication features
  • Development time {three to six months}.
  • Chat rooms with enough capacity
  • Advanced search options

First, if you want higher concurrency in handling the request, Node.js is an excellent backend development option. It comes with out-of-the-box capabilities like handling more than 100,000 concurrent requests on a single core of the backend server.

Load Balancing

Node.js allows you to build backend features and microservices separately. Next, you can assemble them to create a reliable backend for your messaging application. Apart from the Node.js capabilities, you will need a solution to increase the chat rooms’ capacity.

Each chat room has multiple users requesting to access data and send information simultaneously. Now, as numerous users connect to a chat room, the overhead on a single backend server becomes enormous. To overcome this problem, you can use Amazon MQ broker.

Amazon MQ

Connecting to Amazon MQ – Amazon MQ

AWS MQ ensures that the transfer of information from the application to the server is appropriately queued and stored without any backend issues. In addition, it can be used as a messaging broker to connect your apps’ virtual private cloud (VPC) network with the cloud-based elastic interface that users will interact with in a chat room. AWS MQ also helps create secure access to chat rooms through the cloud security layer.

With Node.js, you can easily use cloud-based services like AWS MQ and get your backend ready. Now that you have planned the backend development let’s see how to plan your frontend development and decide what architecture you can use.

Template-Based Architectures for Frontend

Firebase offers pre-configured user interface (UI) elements that you can use without worrying about the backend logic. It makes a reliable connection between the frontend you’re working on and the business logic embedded in the backend.

FCM Architecture

FCM Architectural Overview  |  Firebase (Google.com)

FCM or Firebase Cloud Messaging architecture can be leveraged to create robust messaging apps. There are three layers to FCM architecture.

  1. A tool to build message requests that help to create GUI-based (Graphic User Interface) notifications.
  2. The FCM backend accepts message requests created in the first layer, performs fanout of messages according to topics, and generates message metadata.
  3. A platform-level transport layer helps route messages to the targeted device for message delivery during group chats. This layer includes:
  • Android transport layer (ATL)
  • Apple Push Notification service (APNs)
  • Web push protocol for web apps

Using FCM, you can create a centralized messaging architecture compatible with native messaging transport layers like ATL, APN, and WPP. However, the centralized messaging architecture can lead to security issues if the server or browser is exposed. The solution to such problems is a decentralized architecture.

Decentralized Chat Architectures

Given the distrust of WhatsApp, you may have looked into live chat software alternatives. And with  FCM, you can create a centralized chat architecture. But, if you want a secure architecture that ensures a distributed cybersecurity mesh, decentralization is essential.

For instance, Matrix is an API-based (Application Programming Interface) decentralized architecture type that supports three significant activities in messaging apps:

  • Group chat
  • WebRTC Signaling
  • Reducing Silos

The Matrix structure is a mesh of services that distributes the load across servers to reduce the overhead on infrastructure. It simplifies messaging app communications by using open protocols such as WebRTC. However, the core of the decentralized and centralized architecture may not be so different. Nodal interactions differ in a decentralized architecture.

Data Flow

If you want to use Matrix architecture to build your messaging app, here is how you can do it:

  • Purchase a domain
  • Get a hosting server
  • Install Synapse using Linux Command line tools
  • Create the frontend part of your app
  • Launch the app

There is only one drawback with decentralized architecture — testing. You can enable good security and anonymity of messages through a decentralized architecture, but testing it is difficult. The reason is architecture’s heterogeneous nature, which forces customer environment creation for testing.

But there’s a good reason for establishing the best possible security: to take advantage of a WhatsApp vulnerability. Unfortunately, WhatsApp is not a HIPAA-compliant chat option, so it can’t be used in healthcare.

If you’ve read this far, you’re undoubtedly interested in an app like this. But what if you and your team can’t build it yourselves? In that case, you can outline your specifications and hire dedicated developers to do the work for you. It’s a way to gain time and talent for this project without making permanent hires or providing equipment locally, and it can help you move fast enough to be very competitive in this space.

Or possibly your team wants to develop the app internally but doesn’t believe they have the months and months it typically takes to create a great app. In that case, look for a service that simplifies all the work on the backend (often called a “low-code” resource, such as Back4App), drastically reducing your team’s time commitment.

Or maybe neither of those solutions fits into your present capabilities or budgets. In that case, you’ll want to review alternative options such as the best hosted and self-hosted live chat solutions on the market. These could satisfy your immediate needs if you’re not yet ready to tackle a bigger project.

Now that we know what type of application architecture and resources you can use to create a secure messaging app like Whatsapp or Telegram, you’ll want to be sure it is quickly adopted. One tool for rapid growth is a dynamic QR code generator to make your messaging immediately actionable and lead to more app downloads.

Since social media users are your prime target for a WhatsApp alternative, you’ll also need video promotion — shoppable videos that encourage immediate interactive sign-ups.

 

Consider including some advanced features to appeal to the broadest audience and lure them away from WhatsApp.

Advanced Features

 

Notification Bubbles

https://developer.android.com/guide/topics/ui/bubbles

With the latest Android 11, you can now offer rich communication features like bubble notifications. Messaging apps like Whatsapp have been popular due to rich communication features, and you can provide the same through Android SDK.

Adding features like bubble notifications can help enhance the user experience. They float on top of other apps, so your users never miss a message. In addition, bubbles are responsive and can be expanded to reply on the go. It even shows notifications on locked smartphones or always-on displays.

Personalization

The best thing about WhatsApp is personalization. It has been why WhatsApp is one of the world’s top ten messaging applications. From the custom wallpapers in chat backgrounds to personalized emojis, there are many different features that you can add to your messaging app to make it more attractive for users.

Privacy Features

What makes WhatsApp vulnerable to data leaks is its current privacy policy regarding sharing metadata with Facebook. Though WhatsApp has delayed the privacy policy enforcement for the time being due to massive backlash, people are now looking for secure messaging app options. So, to offer better privacy features, you need to think beyond the usual end-to-end encryptions.

Data Security

Data security relates to the prevention of data leaks and threats from phishing attacks. Messaging applications are prone to leakage of sensitive data. Such leaks occur when:

  • Sensitive data transfers from external browsers to internal servers and vice versa.
  • Sensitive data transfers between internal servers (internal traffic).
  • Sensitive data is stored in compromising conditions.
  • A vulnerable cryptographic algorithm is used.

The best way to ensure that the data transfers, storage, and exchanges are secure is to employ a powerful algorithm. Machine Learning algorithms that can be customized according to the application logic can help.

Data Encryption

WhatsApp employs end-to-end encryption, which has been quite successful, but if you are to create more reliable data encryption, you need advanced technology. Many other security options from AndroidOS come pre-built that you can use, including cipher, shared preferences, and memory cache. Apart from native Android security features, blockchain technology is one of the most innovative ways to democratize data in the modern digital age, and you can use it to encrypt data.

Securing Data

Apart from data encryption, authentications are a great way to reduce data thefts in your messaging apps. There are many types of data authentication approaches that you can use for your messaging applications.

OAuth

OAuth is an open-standard authorization protocol that helps authenticate access to unrelated servers without sharing initially related credentials. It is often also referred to as:

  • Third-Party Authentications
  • User-Agent Authentications
  • Delegated Authentications

Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) refers to the authorization of access to data by verification of two different authentication factors. For example, a user is asked to verify through an email and cell phone number simultaneously to verify they are an authentic user. As innovations are integrated into such protocols, more factors become available. For example, you can now include facial, or fingerprint scans for 2FA.

Conclusion

WhatsApp is here to stay, and despite the backlash to its privacy policy and data sharing with Facebook, its use is too widespread for it to fade from the market. However, because so many people have trust issues with WhatsApp now, there is a lot more opportunity for alternatives. If you’re interested in taking advantage of this opening in the market, you should look to create a reliable messaging application that is far more secure than any other option in the market. Don’t just look for solutions to the present security issues in the market, but tap into technologies like blockchain or facial recognition that can be future-proofed and give your users the confidence to switch to your application.


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Nina Petrov is a content marketing specialist, passionate about graphic design, content marketing, and the new generation of green and social businesses. She starts the day scrolling her digest on new digital trends while sipping a cup of coffee with milk and sugar. Her white little bunny tends to reply to your emails when she is on vacation.