WhatsApp, the messaging app has been making the headlines since introducing the ‘end-to-end encryption’ for its over 1 Billion users. WatsApp recently announced that all messages sent on its service are now fully encrypted. The latest version of the app will use security technology that means that messages can’t be intercepted as they travel between devices. Encryption ensures that only a message’s sender and recipient can read messages, stopping them from being intercepted on their journey.
The latest end-to-end encryption feature is a good news for those concerned with data privacy, but it also raises concern especially for the government. As WhatsApp simply said it itself, No one can see inside that message. Not cyber criminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.
What exactly is it
WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption is available when a user and the person he/she messages to is using the latest version of the app. According to WhatsApp, “Many messaging apps only encrypt messages between you and them, but WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. This is because your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them. For added protection, every message you send has its own unique lock and key.”
How can I activate this feature?
All of this happens automatically, you don’t need to turn on settings or set up special secret chats to secure your messages.
Does this include WhatsApp calling too?
Yes, just like your messages, WhatsApp calls too are encrypted end-to-end. This means that WhatsApp and third parties can’t listen to them.
What about media?
All media which includes video, audio, images and files are also encrypted end-to-end.
What about Groups?
Group chats will not get the encryption feature till even one of the group members is on an older version of WhatsApp.
How do I know that encryption is switched on?
Well you simply tap on the profile or the info page(tap on the name in the header) of your contact, where you will find a section describing the status of the encryption of your chats and calls.
End-to-end encryption on WhatsApp applies to everything or every feature that is available on WhatsApp. Whether it’s calls, messages, photos, videos, files, and even voice messages, all of them will be encrypted. So technically nobody apart from you or your friend will be able to understand them. In transit from one device to another the data will only appear to be garbled text without the keys to put that text together, which resides on devices being used to communicate. Moreover, there are separate keys for each conversation or chat so WhatsApp has provided something really secure indeed.
How is WhatsApp doing this?
WhatsApp is using ‘The Signal Protocol’, designed by Open Whisper Systems, for its encryption. The company claims that the protocol has been specifically developed to keep third-parties like cybercriminals and government officials away from private communication.
However, this is not going to go down well with a lot of governments, especially those who are on the forefront of fighting terror. For them it is a problem if the world’s most popular messaging network goes encrypted. Not that it was easy tapping into any of these networks, but now largest of these doesn’t even leave them an option to. It remains to be seen how governments react. But you can expect at least some countries to be harsh in their reaction.