20 Apr 2018

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TELEGRAM MESSENGER



Telegram is a cloud-based instant messaging service. Telegram client apps are available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Windows NT, macOS and Linux. Users can send messages and exchange photos, videos, stickers, audio and files of any type.

Telegram was founded by the Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov. Its client-side code is open-source software but the source code for recent versions is not always immediately published, whereas its server-side code is closed-source and proprietary. The service also provides APIs to independent developers. In March 2018, Telegram stated that it had 200 million monthly active users. According to its CEO, as of April 2017, Telegram has more than 50% annual growth rate. 


 
FEATURES 

Account 


Telegram accounts are tied to telephone numbers and are verified by SMS or phone call. Users can add multiple devices to their account and receive messages on each one. Connected devices can be removed individually or all at once. The associated number can be changed at any time and when doing so, the user's contacts will receive the new number automatically. In addition, a user can set up an alias that allows them to send and receive messages without exposing their phone number. Telegram accounts can be deleted at any time and they are deleted automatically after six months of inactivity by default, which can optionally be changed to 1 month and 12 months. Users can replace exact "last seen" timestamps with broader messages such as "last seen recently".


The default method of authentication that Telegram uses for logins is SMS-based single-factor authentication. All that is needed in order to log into an account and gain access to that user's cloud-based messages is a one-time Pass Code that is sent via SMS to the user's phone number. These login SMS messages are known to have been intercepted in Iran, Russia and Germany, possibly in coordination with phone companies. Pavel Durov has said that Telegram users in "troubled countries" should enable two-factor authentication by creating passwords, which Telegram allows, but does not require. 



Cloud-based messages 


Telegram's default messages are cloud-based and can be accessed on any of the user's connected devices. Users can share photos, videos, audio messages and other files (up to 1.5 gigabyte in size). Users can send messages to other users individually or to groups of up to 100,000 members. Sent messages can be edited and deleted on both sides within 48 hours after they have been sent. This gives user an ability to correct typos and retract messages that were sent by mistake. The transmission of messages to Telegram Messenger LLP's servers is encrypted with the service's MTProto protocol. According to Telegram's privacy policy, "all data is stored heavily encrypted and the encryption keys in each case are stored in several other DCs in different jurisdictions. This way local engineers or physical intruders cannot get access to user data".  This makes the messages' security roughly comparable to that of e-mail. Here, most providers employ client-server encryption as well, however usually with the standardized protocol Transport Layer Security. E-mails may or may not be encrypted on the servers. Telegram cloud messages and media remain on the servers at least until deleted by all participants. 


Bots 


In June 2015, Telegram launched a platform for third-party developers to create bots. Bots are Telegram accounts operated by programs. They can respond to messages or mentions, can be invited into groups and can be integrated into other programs. It also accepts online payments with credit cards and Apple Pay. Dutch website Tweakers reported that an invited bot can potentially read all group messages when the bot controller changes the access settings silently at a later point in time. Telegram pointed out that it considered implementing a feature that would announce such a status change within the relevant group. Also there are inline bots, which can be used from any chat screen. In order to activate an inline bot, user needs to type in the message field a bot's username and query. The bot then will offer its content. User can choose from that content and send it within a chat. 



Channels 


Channels can be created for broadcasting messages to an unlimited number of subscribers. Channels can be publicly available with an alias and a permanent URL so anyone can join. Users who join a channel can see the entire message history. Each message has its own view counter, showing how many users have seen this message. Users can join and leave channels at any time. Furthermore, users can mute a channel, meaning that the user will still receive messages, but won't be notified. 


Stickers 


Stickers are cloud-based, high-definition images intended to provide more expressive emoji. When typing in an emoji, the user is offered to send the respective sticker instead. Stickers come in collections called "sets", and multiple stickers can be offered for one emoji. Telegram comes with one default sticker set, but users can install additional sticker sets provided by third-party contributors. Sticker sets installed from one client become automatically available to all other clients. Sticker images use WebP file format, which is better optimized to be transmitted over internet. 


Drafts 


Drafts are unfinished messages synced across user devices. One can start typing a message on one device and continue on another. The draft will persist in editing area on any device until it is sent or removed. 


Secret chats 


A "secret chat" confirmation notice - screenshot from Android Marshmallow


Messages can also be sent with client-to-client encryption in so-called secret chats. These messages are encrypted with the service's MTProto protocol. Unlike Telegram's cloud-based messages, messages sent within a secret chat can be accessed only on the device upon which the secret chat was initiated and the device upon which the secret chat was accepted; they cannot be accessed on other devices. Messages sent within secret chats can, in principle, be deleted at any time and can optionally self-destruct.


Secret chats have to be initiated and accepted by an invitation, upon which the encryption keys for the session are exchanged. Users in a secret chat can verify that no man-in-the-middle attack has occurred by comparing pictures that visualize their public key fingerprints.


According to Telegram, secret chats have supported perfect forward secrecy since December 2014. Encryption keys are periodically changed after a key has been used more than 100 times or has been in use for more than a week. Old encryption keys are destroyed.


Windows and Linux users are still not able to use secret chats using the official Telegram Desktop app while the official macOS-only client supports them.


Secret chats are not available for groups or channels.


Telegram's local message database is not encrypted by default. Some Telegram clients allow users to encrypt the local message database by setting a passphrase. 



Voice calls 


In the end of March 2017, Telegram introduced its own voice calls. The calls are built upon the end-to-end encryption of Secret Chats. Connection is established as peer-to-peer whenever possible; otherwise the closest server to the client is used. According to Telegram, there is a neural network working to learn various technical parameters about call to provide better quality of the service for future uses. After a brief initial trial in Western Europe, voice calls are now available for use in most countries. 


Telescope (video messages) 


Since version 4.0, released in May 2017, Telegram offers a dedicated video hosting platform called Telescope. The round videos can be up to one minute long and autoplay. When posted in a public channel on Telegram, the videos are also uploaded to and viewable without an account at telesco.pe. However, Telegram video messages and "Telescope" videos sent within non-public chats or groups are not published. 


Live locations 


For either 15 minutes, one hour, or eight hours, Telegram users can share their live location in a chat since version 4.4 released in October 2017. If multiple users share their live location within a group, they are shown on an interactive map. Sharing the ‘live location’ can be stopped at any time. 


Social login 


In February 2018, Telegram launched their social login feature to its users, named as Telegram Login. It features a website widget that could be embedded into websites, allowing users to sign into a third party website with their Telegram account. The gateway sends users' Telegram name, username, and profile picture to the website owner, while users' phone number remains hidden. The gateway is integrated with a bot, which is linked with the developer's specific website domain. 



ARCHITECTURE 


Encryption scheme 


A simplified illustration of the MTProto encryption scheme.


Telegram uses a symmetric encryption scheme called MTProto. The protocol was developed by Nikolai Durov and other developers at Telegram and is based on 256-bit symmetric AES encryption, 2048-bit RSA encryption and Diffie–Hellman key exchange. 


Servers 


Telegram Messenger LLP has servers in a number of countries throughout the world to improve the response time of their service. Telegram's server-side software is closed-source and proprietary. Pavel Durov has said that it would require a major architectural redesign of the server-side software to connect independent servers to the Telegram cloud. 



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