WhatsApp Enables End-to-End Encryption for 1 Billion Users
One billion people around the world just gained access to end-to-end encryption for their instant messages. That's because the WhatsApp messaging service has just finished integrating a new encryption protocol known as Signal into all versions of the app by default.
That includes encryption of chats, group chats, attachments, voice notes, and voice calls across all its mobile platforms, i.e., Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, Nokia S40, Nokia S60, Blackberry, and BB10.
The development comes courtesy of a partnership announced two years ago between Facebook’s WhatsApp and Open Whisper Systems, a communications security project that develops and distributes privacy tools.
A Winning Battle for Consumers
“Over the past year, we've been progressively rolling out Signal Protocol support for all WhatsApp communication across all WhatsApp clients,” Open Whisper Systems wrote in a blog post yesterday. “Users running the most recent versions of WhatsApp on any platform now get full end-to-end encryption for every message they send and every WhatsApp call they make when communicating with each other.”
While the fact that more than 1 billion people now have access to some of the most secure encryption technology in the world is a major development, it could just be the tip of the iceberg.
Avivah Litan, a security analyst at Gartner Inc., told us the news is just a sign of things to come. “It’s a winning battle for consumers,” Litan said. “Point-to-point encryption is about as tight as you can get. It’s what you have in the payment industry.”
The timing of the announcement is particularly interesting, given the recent battle of wills between the FBI and Apple over the agency’s attempt to force the company to break its own security.
After weeks of asserting that only Apple could help it access data in an iPhone in its possession, the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week revealed that it was able to break into the device and withdrew its court order compelling Apple's assistance.
The device in question -- an iPhone 5c -- had been used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, carried out a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., on December 2 that left 14 people dead. The pair was shot dead by police later that day.
Unable to unlock the iPhone after the attack, the FBI had invoked the 1789 All Writs Act to compel Apple to write new code that would have enabled the agency to bypass encryption protections and access data on the device. The FBI reversed course suddenly last week after revealing that a third party might be able to help it unlock the phone.
Open Whisper’s announcement demonstrates the inadequacy of the government’s approach to defeating consumer privacy, since developers will always be able to create communications tools that can circumvent government surveillance efforts. “The government doesn’t have much of a chance,” Litan added.
Corporate, International Espionage
But despite high-profile cases like the FBI’s battle with Apple, privacy and encryption have remained niche interests to most users, even as it has become more important to providers. “I don’t think consumers are as anxious about it as providers, but it is becoming a competitive feature,” Litan said.
Enterprise clients, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly concerned with communications security following a slew of data attacks against major corporations and their customers. Not only are they looking for ways to protect themselves from criminals and hackers, but many enterprises are looking to protect themselves and their employees from government surveillance.
Corporate clients are definitely concerned about backdoors, especially since enterprises are becoming more aware that they may become targets of state actors, Litan said. “They don’t want the U.S. or any other government spying on their employees,” Litan said. As a result, many more communications providers will probably start enabling strong encryption protocols by default, she added.
Posted: 2016-04-17 @ 11:14am PT
BBM has been doing this all along? How is this news?