WhatsApp is updating its messenger app so that every text and voice call on one of the world’s most popular apps will be protected with strong encryption – potentially putting millions more conversations outside the purview of authorities. A move that will potentially protect texts and voice calls of its over one billion users from hackers and “regimes”.
Deploying universal encryption allows for a number of new protections. Once communications with a user are encrypted, the WhatsApp client will now notify the user and refuse to send any unencrypted messages, addressing previous concerns that the system might be vulnerable to a downgrade attack.
The announcement has come close on the heels of a legal battle between Apple and FBI over the US agency’s demand that the iPhone maker help unlock its mobile phones. Many Silicon Valley players had supported Apple citing that user data privacy needs to be respected.
“WhatsApp has always prioritised making your data and communication as secure as possible. And today, we’re proud to announce that we’ve completed a technological development that makes WhatsApp a leader in protecting your private communication: full end-to-end encryption,” WhatsApp founder Jan Koum said on the company blogpost.
He added that the latest version of the app will encrypt every call, message, photo, video, file and voice message that is sent on the platform by default, including group chats.
“No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us. End-to-end encryption helps make communication via WhatsApp private – sort of like a face-to-face conversation,” he said.
The result is strong security for WhatsApp users, and potentially a template that could be applied to other services going forward. This will not affect how you use WhatsApp on a daily basis. What it does mean is that it will be much more difficult for WhatsApp to provide law enforcement or other governmental authorities copies of any of your communications, even if requested by warrant, because of the strength of the encryption.