The American publication The New York Times has stated that Russian intelligence agencies have learned to track the activity of users on messaging platforms, including Telegram, WhatsApp, and Signal.
According to the publication, FSB employees use specialized software in combination with deep packet inspection (DPI) to monitor the online activity of users.
It is claimed that one such program allows for the identification of when a person makes calls and sends files through messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. It can also determine how many phones the person uses and where their devices are located. Additionally, the program can reveal the location of the devices of individuals with whom the user communicates on the messaging platforms, the newspaper adds.
The Durov's Code reached out to Telegram's press service for comment. Representatives of the messaging app confirmed that it is practically impossible to completely counteract the technologies underlying DPI, but the messenger employs multiple methods to make traffic analysis more difficult for intelligence agencies.
While no popular messaging app provides a complete defense from attempts to identify users via DPI, Telegram has developed several technologies to better protect its users from this threat, such as obfuscating its traffic, the ability for users to schedule messages and tunnel their traffic through built-in proxy servers, and additional privacy options, such as disabling peer-to-peer voice calls and turning off "last seen" timestamps. These measures, in addition to using a VPN, significantly decrease the risks posed by DPI.
While Telegram is better equipped than any other mass-market tool to withstand such DPI techniques, we advise activists living in authoritarian regimes to use the tools developed by Telegram and VPN providers to minimize the risks.
Representatives of Signal and WhatsApp also admitted to NYT that the messaging apps are not capable of fully protecting users from such tracking. Users can only make it more difficult to identify and track them using built-in features. WhatsApp stated that tracking tools pose a "serious threat to people's privacy worldwide."
Meredith Whittaker, the President of Signal Foundation, told NYT that their messaging app was not designed to hide from "internet providers the fact that you are using Signal." She suggested users utilize a feature that sends traffic through another server to obscure its source and destination.