WhatsApp says it is now using a powerful form of encryption to safeguard the security of voice calls, photos, group chats, videos and text messages sent by more than 1 billion of its users worldwide. For the past few months, encryption has been a heavily debated topic, and some U.S. authorities are even warning that violent extremists and criminals can use it to hide their tracks.
WhatsApp now covers all forms of communication
On Tuesday, the messaging giant confirmed the reports, saying its new encryption works with all forms of communication. In 2014, the messaging service, which is owned by Facebook, started end-to-end encryption for standard messages sent on Android smartphones. Now its encryption works for all types of communications on Apple’s iPhones, Android phones and other devices.
“From now on when you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file, and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats,” WhatsApp said in a blog post.
WhatsApp uses encryption technology from Open Whisper Systems, a San Francisco group that created its software with government grants and private funding, including a State Department program that motivated encryption as defense against repressive regimes. Jan Koum, a WhatsApp co-founder who grew up in the Soviet Union, believes people should have easy-to-use encryption to protect themselves from identity thieves, hackers and also the government, which won’t shy away from spying on its own citizens.
Level of encryption by other tech firms
Already the use of encryption by WhatsApp has caused friction in Brazil. A Facebook executive was recently arrested by Brazilian authorities but released later after the social media giant told officials that it was unable to unscramble the encrypted messages of a user. End-to-end encryption automatically encodes each message with an algorithm which can only be read by the recipient and the sender.
WhatsApp is not the only one to use end-to-end encryption; several other less popular services such as Telegram and Signal use it as well. Others do not use the encryption at all. A less extensive form of encryption is used by Yahoo, Google and Facebook to protect messages and emails while they are in transit, thus retaining the ability to scan messages and, under a court order, unlock them as well.
For its iMessage service, Apple uses end-to-end encryption, but experts say WhatsApp may be more secure as it provides a security code that senders and recipients can use to verify that a message came from someone they know and not from a hacker posing as a friend.