Facebook-owned instant messaging platform WhatsApp had recently announced that it was encrypting its services. This means that if users have the latest version of WhatsApp, the app will use simple end-to-end security technology so that the messages are not intercepted or read while being delivered. The encryption makes certain that the sent message can be only accessed by the sender and the recipient. Here is what you need to know about the new service:
1) How does the new service work?
If you are thinking on the lines of Blackberry Enterprise Services’ BBM, then think again as WhatsApp encryption is not as secure. The new end-to-end encryption technology ensures that only the sender and the recipient sees the message which might contain text, pictures, video or voice.
Essentially what WhatsApp does is cloak the message with a lock, and only the recipient and the sender have the special key needed to unlock and read them. For added protection, every message you send has its own unique lock and key.
2)How does one check if their WhatsApp is encrypted and working?
This one is really simple. If a user has the latest version of WhatsApp, the encryption service is active by default. There is another way to check if a conversation with someone is encrypted. Users need to tap on the name of the contact and conversations with those on updated WhatsApp will be shown as “secured with end-to-end encryption.” Chats with those on older versions will not be encrypted.
To verify further, users can tap the “secured with end-to-end encryption” message and can see a QR code and a 60-digit number. It’s also possible for the person you are conversing with over Whatsapp to scan your QR code or compare the 60-digit number.
3)So what items are encrypted? Does it include voice calls too?
Any kind of media that the user sends using WhatsApp is encrypted and can include video, audio, images, files and text. WhatsApp calls like any other messages are encrypted too which means that WhatsApp and third parties can’t listen to them.
4)How does encryption work in a group?
Group chats will only be encrypted if all users on the group are on the latest version of the app.
5)How is WhatsApp pulling this off?
The Facebook-owned firm currently uses ‘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. Since each message is encrypted, getting one code or key is useless for someone trying to snoop as they wouldn’t be able to see the entire conversation.
6)Is there a reason to worry?
Well for most users no but security agencies might find the move not to their liking. The encryption makes it tough for law enforcement and investigative agencies across the world as well as in India. According to media reports, the security agencies will be taking up the matter with the Telecom ministry to ensure that proper safeguards are in place before the services could be allowed in the country. The app is believed to used in Jammu and Kashmir by separatists and anti-national elements for spreading rumours which have often led to violent clashes.