Session Private Messenger

· 788 words · 4 minutes

Privacy Warning

The company behind Session (Loki Foundation) is from Australia. If you didn't know, Australia has introduced legislation mandating companies comply with government requests to build backdoor access into applications. For more information, see my article on AES Encryption.

About Session

Session is a private, cross-platform messaging app from the Loki Foundation. As someone who has spent years looking for quality alternatives to major messaging apps, I was excited when I first heard about Session. Reading through Session's whitepaper, you can learn the technologies behind the Session app. Part of the security of Session comes from the Signal protocol, which was forked as the origin of Session.

Session is an end-to-end encrypted messenger that removes sensitive metadata collection, and is designed for people who want privacy and freedom from any forms of surveillance.

In general, this app promises security through end-to-end encryption, decentralized onion routing, and private identities. The biggest change that the Loki Foundation has made to the Signal protocol is removing the need for a phone number. Instead, a random identification string is generated for any session you create. This means you can create a new session for each device, if you want to, or link new devices with your ID.

Since Session's website and whitepaper describe the details of Session's security, I'm going to focus on using the app in this post.

Features

Since most people are looking for an alternative to a popular chat app, I am going to list out the features that Session has so that you are able to determine if the app would suit your needs:

Downloads

I have tested this app on Ubuntu 19.10, Android 10, macOS Monterey, and iOS 15. All apps have worked well without many issues.

Below is a brief overview of the Session app on Linux. To get this app, you'll need to go to the Downloads page and click to link to the operating system you're using.

For Linux, it will download an AppImage that you'll need to enable with the following command:

sudo chmod u+x session-messenger-desktop-linux-x86_64-1.0.5.AppImage

Session downloads page
Fig. 1 - Session Downloads

Creating an Account

Once you've installed the app, simply run the app and create your unique Session ID. It will look something like this: 05af1835afdd63c947b47705867501d6373f486aa1ae05b1f2f3fcd24570eba608

You'll need to set a display name and, optionally, a password. If you set a password, you will need to enter it every time you open the app.

Session login page

Fig. 2 - Session Login (Linux)

Session login page

Fig. 3 - Session Login (macOS)

Password authentication

Fig. 4 - Password Authentication

Start Messaging

Once you've created your account and set up your profile details, the next step is to start messaging other people. To do so, you'll need to share your Session ID with other people. From this point, it's fairly straightforward and acts like any other messaging app, so I won't dive into much detail here.

macOS

macOS Conversations

Fig. 5 - macOS Conversations

One key feature to note is that the desktop application now provides a helpful pop-up box explaining the process that Session uses to hide your IP address:

IP Hiding

Fig. 6 - IP Address Help Box

iOS

The mobile app is quite simple and effective, giving you all the standard mobile messaging options you'd expect.

iOS App

Fig. 7 - iOS App

Potential Issues

I've discovered one annoying issue that would prevent from using this app regularly. On a mobile device, there have been issues with receiving messages on time. Even with battery optimization disabled and no network restrictions, Session notifications sometimes do not display until I open the app or the conversation itself and wait a few moments. This is actually one of the reasons I stopped using Signal (although this seems fixed as of my updates in 2021/2022, so I wouldn't worry about this issue anymore).

Looking for another messenger instead of Session? I recommend Signal, Matrix, and IRC.