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This article was first published 8 years ago  » Getahead » WhatsApp encryption: What's in it for you

WhatsApp encryption: What's in it for you

By Himanshu Juneja
April 07, 2016 15:42 IST
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With not even WhatsApp having the decryption key, users now enjoy a new level of privacy, however, this is also a concerning development for the Indian government, says Himanshu Juneja

A good deal of WhatsApp users, who are running an updated version of the app, have been greeted with a text message inside their conversations saying:

'Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption. Tap for more info.'

Upon tapping the message, a pop up menu appears, which goes ahead to explain what this end-to-end encryption hullabaloo is all about.

Over a billion WhatsApp users around the world, working on various platforms, are now fully protected against snooping of their WhatsApp messages. This includes not only the text, but also photos, videos and even the calls made via WhatsApp. This encryption ensures that nobody, WhatsApp's employees included, can snoop upon the content sent by you. This encryption of course works across platforms as well.

WhatsApp started rolling out the encryption protected versions at the fag end of 2014. What also must have provided a boost to the roll out, would have been the whole FBI versus Apple standoff vis-a-vis the encryption Apple products have, and the insistence of Apple to not allow the FBI a backdoor entry to access any user's Apple device.

Facebook, which now owns WhatsApp, firmly stood along many tech giants, giving unanimous support to Apple's stance on the whole encryption debate.

The roll out has taken its sweet time, but going by the huge number of users and the varying platforms, one can understand the magnanimity of the task. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum announced the completion of the update on his Facebook page.

WhatsApp has collaborated with Open Whisper Solutions, and employed their 'Signal Protocol' for encrypting the content, which ensures robustness because the message key is temporary, changes with every message, and cannot be recreated.

The users can ensure if their messages are encrypted or not. By tapping on 'verify' option, a page with a QR code shows up. The users can scan the code on their friend's phones and a successful match of the QR code will confirm the encryption status. A green tick mark signifies success, otherwise a red coloured exclamation mark will show up.

With not even WhatsApp having the decryption key, users now enjoy a new level of privacy, however, this is also a concerning development for the Indian government.

As per India's policy, the service providers have to make sure that the decryption key is made available to the concerned government agency for security purposes but WhatsApp has not entered into any such agreement with any service provider.

With around 70 million users in India opting for WhatsApp as their preferred chat client, it will be interesting to see what stance the Government adopts for this hugely popular OTT (over the top) service in India.

Illustration: Reuben NV/

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Himanshu Juneja