We have been testing (and personally using Wire) for years. And while it may not have as much name recognition as Signal or Telegram, Wire offers serious privacy and security benefits and is definitely worth considering. In this Wire messenger review, we’ll show you exactly why this secure messaging app is a strong contender.
But you don’t just need to take our word for it. People who know a lot more about encryption and security are praising this service. Here’s what Edward Snowden had to say:
Unfortunately, I have some concerns when it comes to the strength of the privacy protections in Wire, as well as about the future survival of Wire Personal. In this review we’ll look at the product itself, with the emphasis on Wire Personal. We’ll also look at the privacy and future support issues that surround it.
There’s a lot to cover here in this Wire review. Let’s dive right in.
Wire Personal basics
Wire Personal is the free, personal version of the full Wire product. Originally Wire was meant to be a personal product, but that changed in 2017. Starting then, the company shifted its focus, “from consumers to enterprises with a goal to provide the enterprises with the world’s most secure collaboration software.” (Wire Business Update).
Wire is used by hundreds of security-conscious enterprise customers around the world. That’s great, but what does it have to do with Wire Personal? A lot.
While the company hasn’t abandoned the personal version of Wire, they certainly have de-emphasized it. Wire Personal seems almost like it is hidden away from casual discovery (I’ll give you the link you need later). It is even relatively hard to find Wire Personal help on the site.
In addition, the development work on all versions of Wire is strongly oriented toward the enterprise. This appears to mean that the security of messages is extremely important, but the privacy of users comes second. Wire (the company) collects a lot of metadata about its users. There are reports that they also keep track of every user you communicate with.
The app even sends your password, to the company servers in plain text for validation. In other words, the Wire servers see your actual password every time you log onto the app.
Finally, Wire Personal has a relatively small user base of somewhere around 500,000 people. Maintaining a separate, free product for such a small group of people when the company is selling into giant enterprises could become hard to justify.
Putting aside these issues, Wire Personal has a great feature set. You get all the standard messaging modes: text and voice messages, voice and video calls, and file sharing. It also offers some advanced features that we’ll talk about at appropriate spots as we go.
The company behind Wire
Wire Swiss GmbH is the company behind Wire. The company is based in Switzerland, and has its offices in Berlin and San Francisco. Since the company is based in Switzerland, it is governed by that country’s strong security and privacy laws, something we can all appreciate.
Wire Swiss GmbH was founded almost a decade ago (in 2012) by Jonathan Christensen, Alan Duric, and Priidu Zilmer. These former Microsoft and Skype employees launched the Wire app in 2014. In 2016, they made a major security improvement to Wire by adding end-to-end (E2E) encryption.
Wire Personal security
All messages in Wire are E2E encrypted. The messaging protocol used by Wire is called Proteus. The company developed this protocol using Axolotl, the predecessor to the super-secure Signal protocol. Proteus uses the following encryption algorithms: Curve25519, ChaCha20, and HMAC-SHA256. Voice and video messages use WebRTC with Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS).
Perfect Forward Secrecy means that Wire Personal negotiates new encryption keys for every message. If an attacker somehow manages to discover the encryption keys used for a particular message, those keys will only decrypt that message. The next message uses new keys, so the attacker will need to somehow discover those keys too if they want to read that message. From the technical perspective, your communications are secure with Wire.
All your data is secure. It is stored, encrypted, on your devices. Your messages do need to pass through company servers, but they are only stored there until the recipient is online. But even then, there is no reason to worry, since all your messages are E2E encrypted. No one, not even Wire, can read your messages even when they are sitting on company servers. Only the recipient has that ability.
The Wire servers I alluded to above are spread through several locations in the European Union (EU), where they are presumably protected by the GDPR.
Third-party audits and testing
I like that Wire not only had outside testing done, but they published the results too. That gives regular folks like me assurances about the security of Wire without my needing to be able to audit the product myself.
In early 2018, Kudelski Security and X41 D-sec GmbH published the results of several Wire security reviews they did in 2017. Links to those results are at the bottom of the Wire Security & Privacy page.
While the reviews did identify some problems, the team at Wire resolved them quickly. I was happy to see both the test results and the rapid response by the Wire team. The only thing I don’t like about all this is that the testing was done more than 2 years ago. Wire needs to do a new round of testing with the current generation of their software.
Wire also publishes a Transparency Report every year. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they update the report, since it has entries going back to 2014. As you can see in the following image, the report is pretty minimal:
I would love to see a bit more detail in this report. But considering that many products don’t bother to publish a Transparency Report at all, what Wire has done here isn’t too bad.
Installing and Using Wire Personal messenger
I tested Wire Personal using the Windows desktop app, the browser app, and the Android mobile app. But before I could even start, I had to find it. The company doesn’t really seem interested in promoting Wire Personal, and it isn’t all that easy to find. To save you some searching around, here’s the link to the Wire Personal page that I promised you.
Installing Wire Personal for Android
First, you download and install the mobile app (called Wire * Secure Messenger in the Play store) just like any other free Android app. Then you can create a Wire Personal account using either your phone number or an email address. You can use a disposable email address when you create the account, which is a better privacy choice than your phone number.
Some secure messengers do not give you this option, as we noted in the Signal review.
I haven’t had any problems with Wire on my Android device, but many people have apparently run into problems, resulting in the app getting a pretty mediocre 3.6 stars rating.
Using Wire Personal for Android
Assuming you don’t run into any major problems, you’ll find that Wire works much the same as any other secure messenger app. Simply select a person and start a conversation. You have many options for each message that appears in a conversation. The three-dot icon next to a message gives you a full menu.
Like an increasing number of secure messengers, Wire supports timed messages (a.k.a. self-destructing messages). Set the timer and every message after that will automatically disappear after the interval you selected, which we also noted in our Telegram review. Complete instructions for using timed messages are available in this support article.
Another advanced feature called key verification gives you the ability to confirm that you are chatting with the person you think you are. If the keys provided by another person do not match their previous ones, Wire will notify you. This gives you the option to abort the conversation until you can confirm the identity of the other person by other means.
Installing and Using Wire Personal for desktop
Once again, here is the link to the Wire Personal page. When you go to the page and click the Download Now button, You’ll end up on the download page with the correct version of Wire Personal for your operating system already selected.
When you launch Wire for the first time you’ll need to enter either your phone number or an email address to create your account and receive a confirmation email. As I explained earlier, Wire emphasizes security much more than privacy. But this is one point where you can boost your privacy a bit.
I suggest you use a throwaway email address for registering your account instead of your phone number. Once you finish replying to the confirmation email message that Wire will send you, you can abandon that email address and Wire will have one less piece of personal data about you. Just be sure to store your login credentials in a safe place!
Whichever way you decide to go, once you complete the registration process you’ll find yourself in the Wire Personal desktop. It will look something like this:
For the most part Wire works like any other messaging app. Select a person in the left pane to start or continue your conversation with them. Hover the cursor over a message and a three-dot menu will appear next to it listing all the options you have for that individual message.
As with the mobile app, you get a set of options next to the Type a Message box, including the timed message icon (circled in red in the preceding image). If your usage model for messaging supports it, I recommend you set a reasonable timer that will apply to all messages. This seems especially prudent when using Wire, since the app will be sending your password to the Wire servers in unencrypted form every time you log in.
Wire’s Support & FAQ page contains a lot of useful information for resolving any problems you might have. Unfortunately for us, this is another place where the company’s focus on Enterprise customers instead of Personal customers makes its presence felt. Finding information about a specific Wire Personal issue is easy, but you need to know exactly what you want help with.
Browsing through the FAQ will mostly show you information related to the non-Personal versions of Wire. And much of that information will not apply to the Personal version.
Worse, Wire Personal users have little access to help from the Support team. Here’s the canned response I received the last time I tried to contact Wire Support with questions:
We currently offer limited support to our Wire Personal users. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. Due to limited resources we can only fully serve Wire Pro users and help with very urgent or security-related tickets from Personal users. Please search our extensive Support site for frequently asked questions.
Even though we cannot respond to every ticket, we take notice of all issues, feature requests, and any other feedback you share.
In other words, don’t bother us — unless you are a paying customer.
Wire messenger prices
As discussed previously, Wire Personal is a free product. For a long time now there have been rumors that Wire Personal will eventually switch to a freemium pricing model. But I haven’t seen any sign of that yet.
For reference, the other versions of Wire (Wire Pro and Wire Enterprise) are paid services, with pricing as shown below:
Here are a few questions that seem to pop up frequently when you research Wire messenger.
Yes, I believe Wire messenger is really secure. It uses strong, end-to-end encryption and protocols (including Perfect Forward Secrecy) for all messages. Wire has been selected by more than 700 security-oriented businesses, and received a Twitter recommendation from Edward Snowden. It is definitely secure.
Is Wire more secure than WhatsApp?
I would say that Wire and WhatsApp are equally secure. But that’s fine. The criticism of WhatsApp these days isn’t related to their security. Both Wire and Whatsapp use strong end-to-end encryption to protect your messages from prying eyes. They are both secure.
Is Wire the best messenger app?
It is hard to say which app is the best messenger app. It depends to a large part on what you want from your messenger app. Wire Personal is free, and uses end-to-end encryption to keep your messages secure. But it is not as strong on privacy as an app like Signal (which collects virtually no metadata) or Wickr (which supports true anonymous use). Also, Wire Personal has around 500,000 users, while other secure messaging apps have tens to hundreds of millions of users.
So no, I don’t think you can say that Wire is the best messenger app. But it is a good one, and could turn out to be the best messenger app for you.
Wire Review Conclusion
Wire Personal is a great secure messaging app for individuals. It is secure and has been audited to confirm that. And it is a free app that works well on a variety of devices. It also has several drawbacks as we discussed throughout this review.
In many ways, Wire is similar to Wickr. As we noted in the Wickr review, it also offers excellent security and user-friendly apps, while not getting as much recognition as other services.
If you are still reading at this point, I’ll assume that you didn’t see any show-stoppers for your own situation. That being the case, I suggest you download and install Wire Personal. Try it for a while (it is free after all), and see what you think. I know several people who swear by Wire, despite its imperfections. You might end up being one of those people.