WhatsApp was established in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, both former employees of Yahoo! It is used to send text messages, documents, images, videos, user location, and audio media messages to other users using standard cellular mobile numbers with a data plan. Ever since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014, it has undergone significant changes and regular updates, especially towards data protection and privacy features. This is much needed, as WhatsApp has the incredible power to share any file, video, audio, text, and so on in just one click. The growing security concern has centered around hackers and cybercriminals due to their ability to access user data and make users more prone to these attacks. Vulnerability has always been an area of concern. This also holds well with respect to recent clashes between the FBI and Apple to unlock the phones of users under investigation.
For WhatsApp, the most popular instant messaging app, encryption has always been a need for users. The user base in WhatsApp crossed the billion mark in February 2015, followed by Facebook with about 800 million messenger users, making it even more important to provide efficient data protection for its users.
What is Encryption?
Encryption is all about encoding a message or information in such a way that it can only be read by authorized users—where the information was intended to be shared. In other words, all data is translated into secret code from the sender and is then sent through a passkey, which only the desired user can have access to. Traditionally, this has been used across organizations to increase security. Blackberry services with a data plan and emails, for instance, have been a big hit across enterprises over the last decade, as it is arguably the safest email server.
Encryption Power in WhatsApp
InApril 2015, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koumhas stated that they have been working on bringing about this encryption for 2 years. This is end-to-end encryption wherein “once the session is established, clients do not need to rebuild a new session with each other until the existing session state is lost through an external event, such as an app reinstall or device change.” WhatsApp had actually started encrypting its text messages in late 2014 itself. On April 5, it started encrypting all calls, photos, and videos as well.
This encryption is now enabled by default across all WhatsApp users if they are on the latest update release, which means if the sender and receiver of the messages have the latest version of the app installed on their mobile devices, the encryption is bound to be enabled. However, the catch is that users don’t have an option for switching this feature on or off. Recently updated apps will now show this message:
“Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption. Tap for more info.”
WhatsApp even states that user info cannot be accessed by any 3rd party outside of the sender; the desired receiver doesn’t even have access to it. This statement is building a lot of credibility in the market today.
What It Means to Users
There are no changes in the way you have been using WhatsApp. Having said that, it will now be much more difficult to ensure law enforcement or to provide copies of any user-specific communication to government authorities, even if they wish to do so.
Files are important, so please back them up if you need them in the future. WhatsApp doesn’t save anything on their servers which means once files are deleted, they can never be recovered. No one will be able to read them, as everything is now encrypted. Group chats, however, are not yet encrypted, so files in this case are safe.
In a nutshell, your private chats are safer now, and global chats are safer than ever before. All other chat service providers should start following the encryption process soon. With this, WhatsApp has set a brand new benchmark for them to follow.