WhatsApp will now encrypt all types of content on its app, allowing only the intended recipients to access information sent to them. The fully encrypted app will run on Blackberry, iPhone, Nokia, and Google Android devices.
Previously, the messenger app encrypted only text messages and voice calls, giving videos and pictures weaker encryption. Similarly, group discussions on the platform were vulnerable to eavesdropping by hackers.
The new development, however, does not mean that everyone using Whatsapp will benefit from end to end encryption. Certain gadgets use web applications to access the platform. It might be impossible to establish an end-to-end encryption with these because they are run by separate organizations. The same applies to users who will decide to stick to their earlier versions of Whatsapp.
Fortunately, users will be able to know when there is a potential for eavesdropping and identify why the encryption is not complete. For instance, if a person sends a message using an old version of Whatsapp, the receiver will be informed that an end-to-end encryption with the other device could not be achieved.
In groups, participants will know when there are loopholes that an uninvited person can use to listen to their discussions. They will also identify which participant is exposing the group to such risks. This, hopefully will, help users to determine what kind of information to share when communicating on Whatsapp.
Governments not Happy About the Upgraded Encryption
As expected, the news of upgraded encryption on Whatsapp is not considered positive by government authorities. Encryption has always been a source of contention between governments and tech companies, since it denies the former easy access to citizens’ data. Senator Richard Bur, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, has announced that his team is working on a law that will put some restrictions on encryption.
The Whatsapp news comes on the heels of the public debate surrounding government surveillance which was stirred by Edward Snowden two years ago. Since the reports about government spying came to the limelight, tech companies have racing to strengthen the encryption on their systems, as governments struggle to discourage them against such moves.
Only a few week ago the FBI announced that it had managed to crack the iPhone 5c device that created court battles between the government and Apple. The police wanted to compel Apple to create software that would allow backdoor access into the iPhone device linked to a terrorism suspect, a demand that Apple was strongly against.
FBI: Prepares for the Consequences
The FBI General Counsel, James Baker, warned that the new move by Whatsapp has “public safety costs”, and that victims of terrorism and other crimes will bear the costs. Baker appealed to the public to do something about it else the continuous roll out of encryption will have negative impacts on their safety.
In its defense, Whatsapp claims that its intent is to protect citizens against oppressive regimes as well as from criminals, a claim that proponents of encryption have put forward many times.
Pro-encryption activists have pointed out that, even if the government has no bad intent, making information deliberately accessible to it does more harm than good because such entry paths can also be used by rogue individuals to harm innocent citizens.
Future encryption will be Impenetrable
Most of the existing encrypted systems are theoretically breakable, though they require keys that might take years to generate using existing computers. As time progresses though, advanced computer processors come into place and break them apart. Hackers (including the government) and system developers have been playing a cat and mouse game, where each party tries to outsmart the other by keeping ahead of the other with technology.
But the cat-mouse drama, where the tech companies tighten security and the government finds new ways to break in, is about to end: future encryptions might not allow even the most powerful computers to break through them. The government knows this, and that is why it is becoming more vocal against encryption.
Interestingly, the public seems to be divided on the issue. While some believe that total privacy is a must, others feel that governments should be permitted to carry out surveillance to prevent terrorism and criminal activity.
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