Send nudes? Here’s how to practice safe sext
Make sure your sexts are in safe hands with these technical tips.
We use smartphones to document so many aspects of our lives that it’s no surprise that many people also use them to capture the most private parts. (Yes, we went there.) Sexting is a growing part of many relationships and hook-ups, but when does it cross the line from risqué to risky?
Let’s deal with the biggest danger up front: if you send an intimate image of yourself to a person you don’t know or fully trust yet, they could send that photo to someone else without you knowing.
“There are instances where images have ended up being sent to family members, or posted on social media. Other times they have ended up as adverts for adult websites. The images could also be used for blackmail, or, as it’s often known, ‘sextortion’,” says Javvad Malik, lead security awareness advocate with KnowBe4.
Since 2021, under Irish law, sharing someone’s intimate images without their consent is a crime.
So let’s draw some clear lines here: if two consenting adults who are dating or in a long-term relationship want to sext each other, can they do it securely? Cybersecurity experts we spoke with say it’s not possible to guarantee 100% security, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk.
The first is to avoid using standard text messages to send intimate photos. This can happen if you’ve got an iPhone and your significant other owns an Android; you won’t be able to use iMessage, for instance. Instead, you could both decide on a messaging app that offers better protection so no one can eavesdrop on your conversations.
“If you’re sharing intimate images, it's wise to use an app that is built with good encryption, such as Signal. This limits the danger of the images being compromised in transit,” says Dr Jessica Barker of Cygenta, a best-selling author and keynote speaker on cybersecurity.
Another option is to set up messages to disappear after a certain time. “Disappearing messages are often a good method to use, where once the recipient views the message once, it gets automatically removed,” says Malik. Snapchat, WhatsApp and Telegram all have this feature, and there are other paid apps you can use too.
WhatsApp also has a feature called Chat Lock, which adds an extra layer of security to conversations intended for that special someone. Those chats don’t appear in your regular inbox. You can only access them with your device’s password or a biometric like a face scan or fingerprint.
Using an encrypted app is a good start, but not enough by itself. Most smartphones save photos in the camera roll to a cloud service for storing your data online. Normally, that’s a useful feature that stops you from losing treasured memories if you lose your phone. But if you’ve been sexting, that could be a risk.
If you use a weak password that’s easy to guess, a hacker could access your cloud back-ups – potentially compromising pictures you wouldn’t want others to see. (This happened to some celebrities whose nude photos were leaked online back in 2014.) “I don’t think somebody is going to hack WhatsApp to get at your nude pictures, but the concern is if someone accidentally or deliberately stumbled across where those images are stored,” says Brian Honan, CEO of BH Consulting, a cybersecurity and data protection practice.
Honan recommends protecting your cloud back-ups with a strong pass phrase. Better still, an authenticator app or password manager will verify you as the account holder.
Barker and Malik both suggest making any suggestive photos as anonymous as possible. “Avoid including identifying features, for example your face and even unique tattoos. Then, if the worst happens and they get shared or leaked without your consent, you should not be identifiable,” says Barker.
Before reaching for your smartphone, talk clearly with the person you want to sext about good cybersecurity habits for both of you – and some healthy relationship boundaries.
“You may have taken all appropriate steps to keep your images secure, but you’re relying on the person at other end to save and secure those images as well. The key thing is to establish trust and good ground rules in place to share intimate images. And maybe have an agreement that, should the relationship break down, you have a way that both of you can confirm any images have been removed or deleted,” Honan says.