After the legal battle between Apple and the FBI concluded last week, WhatsApp unveiled “end-to-end” encryption today as part of its own fight to secure customer privacy against governmental intrusion.
“The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat gat you send that message to. No one can see inside that message, not cybercriminals, not hackers, not oppressive regimes, not even us,” said WhatsApp this morning as the new encryption feature rolled out to customers.
As of today, WhatsApp messages will be encrypted from end-to-end, meaning that any message sent between two users can only be read by those two users, even if a government agency has a secret surveillance warrant in place to monitor an individual’s communications. WhatsApp launched the new encryption feature today in hopes that customers would remain confident that their communications were private and protected by strong encryption.
“We live in a world where more of our data is digitized than ever before. Every day we see stories about sensitive records being improperly accessed or stolen,” said WhatsApp today, defending the move to enable end-to-end encryption for all users of the popular messaging app.
"It took a team of only 15 to bring encryption to the company’s one billion users." Amazed by the WhatsApp team https://t.co/BNuGihcYAi
— Sequoia (@sequoia) April 5, 2016
The WhatsApp encryption, reports the Independent, is strong enough to prevent even government-level surveillance of messages while they travel between sender and recipient, causing some lawmakers and law enforcement officials to criticize the move. U.K. politicians, in particular, have proposed laws that would make strong encryption, like the encryption used by WhatsApp, to be illegal for consumer use.
“Encryption is one of the most important tools governments, companies, and individuals have to promote safety and security in the new digital age,” said WhatsApp in a statement on the end-to-end encryption feature this morning.
WhatsApp previously had encryption features in the popular messaging app, but it was still vulnerable to government surveillance, cybercriminals, and unwanted intrusion, in part because the encryption wasn’t comprehensive — some parts of the app, some parts of encrypted messages, were unencrypted. No more, says WhatsApp, as of today users of the popular messaging app received a notice at the top of the app, stating unequivocally that the encryption used by WhatsApp is end-to-end, meaning that it is effectively invulnerable to intrusion.
— WIRED (@WIRED) April 5, 2016
“Recently there has been a lot of discussion about encrypted services and the work of law enforcement. While we recognize the important work of law enforcement in keeping people safe, efforts to weaken encryption risk exposing people’s information to abuse from cybercriminals and rogue states,” said WhatsApp this morning, defending the decision to roll out end-to-end encryption.
Of course, WhatsApp messages are only as secure as the phone they’re on, and if another person or a law enforcement agency was able to get into that phone, they’d be able to access a user’s WhatsApp messages. However, the strong encryption rolled out by WhatsApp today secures against third party snooping, ensuring that a message that is in transit between one WhatsApp user and another, remains completely encrypted and totally confidential.
The move has been praised by security experts and human rights advocates, who suggest that encrypted messaging will allow individuals who live under oppressive governments to communicate freely using WhatsApp – which is, according to the company itself, the primary goal of its encryption feature.
“I grew up in the USSR during communist rule, and the fact that people couldn’t speak freely is one of the reasons my family moved to the United States,” said Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp.
According to the Verge, the end-to-end encryption was rolled out to all of WhatsApp’s user-base after months of internal development.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]