The latest WhatsApp release for Android provides users with end-to-end encryption of their text messages by default. Offered through a newly announced partnership, the updated WhatsApp Android client now features Open Whisper Systems' TextSecure encryption protocol.
Full deployment of encryption for other mobile operating systems will happen incrementally, Open Whisper Systems said in a blog post Tuesday. "We have a ways to go until all mobile platforms are fully supported, but we are moving quickly towards a world where all WhatsApp users will get end-to-end encryption by default," the post said.
That's quite a big world, too. WhatsApp, a cross-platform system for mobile messaging, surpassed 600 million active monthly users this past summer. Facebook completed its $16 billion acquisition of the company last month.
For 1:1 Text Messages Only
Founded by former Yahoo! employees Jan Koum and Brian Acton in 2009, WhatsApp provides a way for users on any mobile platform to send text messages to each other without having to use SMS, which many phone companies charge fees for on a daily or per-message basis. The app also enables the exchange of photos, videos, audio and location information.
With use of WhatsApp free for the first year (the company charges a 99-cent-per-year subscription after that), the service has proven to be hugely appealing in many global markets. It has more than 70 million users in India alone.
Early versions of WhatsApp sent and received messages in plain text, leaving users vulnerable to hackers and others that might want to steal their information. The company had since enabled message encryption, but only between the sender and its own servers.
With the new end-to-end encryption enabled by the TextSecure protocol, WhatsApp messages will now remain private along the entire path from sender to recipient, according to Open Whisper Systems. While that will apply to the billions of text messages users send out daily, encryption will not yet be available for group chats or media messages.
Largest Deployment Ever?
We reached out to WhatsApp to learn more about the encryption rollout, but were told by a spokesperson that the company is not currently doing any interviews or responding to media questions. Open Whisper Systems did not respond to a request for more information.
In Tuesday's blog post, Open Whisper Systems said it had been working with WhatsApp for the past half year to deploy messaging encryption. The company, whose stated mission is to "make private communication simple," also continues to work on ongoing updates and refinements to its own TextSecure app, the post said.
With encrypted WhatsApp messaging yet to come for other platforms besides Android, this week's announcement already marks a milestone, according to Open Whisper Systems.
"Even though we're still at the beginning of the rollout, we believe this already represents the largest deployment of end-to-end encrypted communication in history," the company said.