HOW SECURE IS WHATSAPP – WhatsApp security and encryption explained

Posted on Posted in ICT

WhatsApp Messenger is a freeware, cross-platform and end-to-end encrypted instant messaging application for smartphones. It uses the Internet to make voice calls, one to one video calls, send text messages, images, GIF, videos, documents, user location, audio files, phone contacts and voice notes to other users using standard cellular mobile numbers. It also incorporates a feature called Status, which allows users to upload photos and videos to a 24-hours-lifetime feed that, by default, are visible to all contacts which is similar to Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram Stories.

WhatsApp, was incorporated in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, both former employees of Yahoo!. After Koum and Acton left Yahoo! in September 2007, the duo traveled to South America as a break from work. At one point, they applied for jobs at Facebook but were rejected.

WhatsApp Inc., headquartered in Mountain View, California, was acquired by Facebook in February 2014 for approximately US$19.3 billion. By April 2017, WhatsApp has a user base of over one (1) billion and still counting, making it the most popular messaging application and the company prides itself in the apparent security it affords all of those users provided they are running the latest version of the app.

WhatsApp uses part of a security protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems, a company that has its own fully secure messaging app Signal (for iOS and Android). It may not be as obsessed with multimedia sharing as WhatsApp but its basic functions are the same and fully end-to-end encrypted.

WHAT IS END-TO-END ENCRYPTION (E2EE)

Encryption is the scrambling of messages from the sender on their journey to the recipient, largely to discourage the interception and reading of those messages by other parties. This is a system of communication where only the communicating users can read each other’s messages. It prevents potential eavesdroppers – including telecom providers, Internet providers, and even the provider of the communication service (Whatsapp) – from being able to access the cryptographic keys needed to decrypt the conversation.

This concept dates back thousands of years to coded written message sending, but now, modern forms of communication can be encrypted automatically with complex coding. The systems are designed to defeat any attempts at surveillance or tampering because no third parties can decipher the data being communicated or stored. For example, companies that use end-to-end encryption are unable to hand over texts of their customers’ messages to security authorities or agents.

HOW TO TURN ON ENCRYPTION IN WHATSAPP

WhatApps now securely encrypts every single message, call, picture, video or any other type of file you send so that the only person who can read or view it is the recipient. Not even WhatsApp has the ability to intercept and view those messages.

As a user, you don’t have to turn this feature on, nor can you turn it off. You should receive a message within your chats if you are using the latest version of the app (which is required) to let you know the change has been implemented for you.

To verify that a chat is end-to-end encrypted

  1. Open the chat.
  2. Tap on the name of the contact to open the contact info screen.
  3. Tap Encryption to view the QR code and 60-digit number.

If you and your contact are physically next to each other, one of you can scan the other’s QR code or visually compare the 60-digit number. If you scan the QR code, and the code is indeed the same, a green checkmark will appear. Since they match, you can be sure no one is intercepting your messages or calls.

Why has WhatsApp introduced end-to-end encryption? 

Now that WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, it means that they (whatsapp) and no party eg; governments, police, hackers, other users – can intercept and read your messages.

WhatsApp has done this because as a company they believe in your right to have private conversations when you use their service.

Dangers of end-to-end encryption

The reason the decision is getting a lot of attention is because of high profile criminal and global terrorism cases in which communications service providers are put upon by authorities to release sensitive personal data. A high profile case is the FBI asking Apple to unlock an iPhone 5C that was used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, a move which Apple refused, underlining the integral values many large communications companies hold when it comes to personal data, security and encryption.

One MAJOR DISADVANTAGE of whatsapp end-to-end encryption is that it provides a safe haven for terrorists, criminals to communicate with each other, share files and sensitive information without been traced or tracked by security agencies.

Does every app have end-to-end encryption?

The short answer is NO, but also this is not something to be alarmed about. WhatsApp’s decision is one of the first of its kind, and is particularly interesting because traditionally smartphone messaging services have played down the importance of security.

Facebook Messenger only encrypts messages between your device and their servers. This means, by law, Facebook could be obliged to divulge private messages. The same applies to Instagram, which Facebook owns, though interestingly, it also owns WhatsApp.

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