WhatsApp started in 2009, and since then has become a go to messaging for millions of people around the world. They were acquired by Facebook in 2014 for 19 billion, but have remained a moderately separate entity since then. From keeping in contact with family on the other side of the world to setting up a group chat to keep up with the weekend’s party plans, WhatsApp can be used to send messages, photos and even call someone for free, once you’re connected to Wi-Fi or a data plan.
Everything sent through the messaging app will now be secure from outside onlookers. This includes photos, videos and phone calls. The move prevents everyone from having access to your messages, from governments to cyber criminals even the WhatsApp team themselves.
At a very basic level encryption scrambles the message that was sent, but only the receiver has the ability to unscramble it. Read WhatsApp’s explanation here. So while WhatsApp have security measures in place that prevent people from accessing information in the first place, if a person was to gain access to any information sent they now can’t decipher what the message even says. So it’s an added layer of security.
For the average person, they are most likely sending mundane messages about meeting for lunch, or sending pictures of the new fridge they’re thinking about buying, so most people would never consider security around what they’re sending and storing online. But if an individual sends their credit card information to a family member in total innocence, it could in fact be accessed. That’s why the move to encryption is an important one for WhatsApp users. It allows them to have the freedom to send information and for that information to remain between the sender and receiver. Despite this, and just for clarity, we wouldn’t actually advise sending such personal information like bank account details over WhatsApp or any other online communication service.
Data protection has been in the news a lot lately, with Apple’s Tim Cook refusing to give the FBI access to a mass shooter’s iPhone. The police were asking for a back door into Apple’s pre-existing encryption field, which could leave the encryption open to attacks in the future. The police believed they should have access to the files because they were chasing a criminal, and they deserved access because of the authority that they have. In refusing these demands it appears Apple continue to consider their customers’ privacy a top priority.
The extra security layers that encryption adds will prevent everyone from accessing the information including government bodies. So it could be thought the WhatsApp are making a similar move as Apple and standing up for the privacy of their users. Needless to say government bodies will not be happy with this move, but only time will tell how they will approach the situation.
The move is a significant one in terms of internet security and by no means was it forced upon them. WhatsApp took it upon themselves to make a more secure line for their users. It’s now a default setting so users don’t have to worry about opting in but can rest assured in the knowledge that nobody will see that picture of the cat they sent to their friend this morning.
Just try not to forget that while your messages are protected out in cyberspace, they can still be accessed by snooping significant others who know your phones password.
Image source: wired.com