If you’re a WhatsApp user, you’ll be happy to know that everything you do in the app is now protected by end-to-end encryption.
“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,” founder Jan Koum has stated on the WhatsApp blog.
That means more than one billion people, whether they are using an iPhone, an Android device, a Nokia device, a Blackberry, or a Windows Phone, are being protected from hackers, cyber-criminals, governments, and anyone interested in eavesdropping on their conversations. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, claims that it cannot read the messages either.
It’s still unclear if WhatsApp will be able to help law enforcement get access to data in connection with criminal investigations. The Department of Justice has recently been examining how it can proceed with wiretap orders related to WhatsApp, as it cannot break into the encrypted service, according to The New York Times.
Koum has spoken out about the benefits and importance of encryption before, notably when Apple was facing a court order to provide a backdoor into the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist shooter. WhatsApp was a part of group of tech companies that filed an amicus brief in support of Apple.
Koum grew up in the USSR during communist rule, and has experienced first-hand a culture where people can’t speak freely. He has mentioned before that it’s one of the reasons his family moved to the U.S.
“Encryption is one of the most important tools governments, companies, and individuals have to promote safety and security in the new digital age,” Koum said in the announcement. “Recently there has been a lot of discussion about encrypted services and the work of law enforcement. While we recognize the important work of law enforcement in keeping people safe, efforts to weaken encryption risk exposing people’s information to abuse from cyber-criminals, hackers, and rogue states.”
Koum is referring to the recent Apple vs. FBI showdown. Apple was facing a court order to provide a backdoor into the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter. Apple refused, asserting that creating new code for the FBI could threaten the privacy and security of all its customers. The Department of Justice dropped the order after the FBI found a way to hack into the iPhone via a third party.
End-to-end encryption has been available for WhatsApp’s messages since 2014 on Android, and the company has partnered with Open Whisper Systems again to bring the full experience to all its services. The app will notify users if a conversation is or is not encrypted.
“Once a client recognizes a contact as being fully e2e capable, it will not permit transmitting plain text to that contact, even if that contact were to downgrade to a version of the software that is not fully e2e capable,” according to Open Whisper System’s blog. “This prevents the server or a network attacker from being able to perform a downgrade attack.”
You’re not required to do anything, as updating the app turns encryption on by default.