Whatsapp encryption has been taken to another level. In the past few weeks, the biggest news from the perspective of online security was the fight between the FBI and Apple. By the way, that almighty skirmish was resolved last week after the FBI claimed it had being able to unlock the iPhone in question with the help of private independent contractors out of Israel.
With the provision of end-to-end Whatsapp encryption, is Facebook trying to tell security agencies like the FBI and snoopy governments that the days of snooping on Whatsapp are over? Probably. It is easy to dismiss the scale of this end-to-end whatsapp encryption. To out it in figures, according to Facebook, over 1 billion people use whatsapp around the world. This directly means that the billions of messages passing through whatsapp are now locked to any third party.
Any third party includes even the engineers at Whatsapp. In a nutshell, with the latest Whatsapp encryption, even Facebook or Whatsapp employees cannot decrypt private chats. So even if a court order is served on whatsapp, they would be unable to crack their own app. That is how serious end-to-end encryption works. And to make it all encompassing, the feature works on all platforms, whether it is the latest iOS device, Android device or even an old Motorola handset with the whatsapp application on it.
End-to-end encryption in general implies the messages, videos and other files exchanged on whatsapp would not be stored in plain text on Whatsapp’s servers. And since the exchanges between parties are not stored on whatsapp servers, decrypting them is almost impossible for Whatsapp engineers because they are not in possession of the encryption keys.
Whatsapp encryption didn’t just happen because of the fallout between the FBI and Apple. This project that has being in the pipeline for over one and half years. Making whatsapp encryption this secure was the brainchild of the founders of Whatsapp, the publicity-shy Brian Acton and Jan koum. In partnership with an idealistic programmer named Moxie Marlinspike, the three-some have succeeded in giving the world the most secured online messaging platform.
Speaking to WIRED about his vision for online security, koum said,
“We’re somewhat lucky here in the United States, where we hope that the checks and balances hold out for many years to come and decades to come. But in a lot of countries you don’t have these checks and balances.The argument can be made: Maybe you want to trust the government, but you shouldn’t because you don’t know where things are going to go in the future.”
Apart from the obvious benefit of having this new Whatsapp encryption, what are the ramifications of this new development? It is now very likely that nefarious groups or individuals (we are talking criminals and terrorists here) would increasingly come to rely on whatsapp for their online communication. Since Apple’s famed encryption turned out to be false, the communication tool of choice for them would be whatsapp especially if it turns out to be really unbreachable.
It is also likely that more Governments would step in and try to regulate how whatsapp is used in their countries. Banning whatsapp is not far-fetched. After all, we saw how Egypt banned Free Basics because it couldn’t spy on citizens using the service. But again, this bleak future for Whatsapp might be different. Because of the dizzying pace of technological innovations, we just can’t predict what is going to happen with a comfortable degree of accuracy.
photo credits: independent.co.uk; google.com