What WhatsApp’s new end-to-end encryption means for you

Stefanie Smith 6 Apr 2016

WhatsApp’s new end-to-end encryption means that the only people who can read your messages are you and the person that you’re chatting with.

WhatsApp’s new end-to-end encryption means that the only people who can read your messages are you and the person that you’re chatting with.

Last night, I was chatting with a friend from home via WhatsApp, when a message appeared within my chat informing me that my messages and calls in WhatsApp were now secured with end-to-end encryption.


What is end-to-end encryption?

Think of encryption as a high-tech form of scrambled eggs -- when you send messages, make a call, or send photos or videos with the latest version of WhatsApp, your messages are randomly mixed and secured. Only the person receiving your message has the key to unscramble your message so that it can be read. This makes it impossible for hackers, governments and even WhatsApp itself to access any of your messages. In the case that messages are intercepted by criminals or authorities, encryption renders messages unreadable to the unauthorized viewers.

Your WhatsApp messages are now private (if you update WhatsApp)

If you’re like me, you like to believe that no one else is reading your messages or listening in on your calls, but you can never really know. Now, you can sleep safe and sound at night knowing that your WhatsApp communications are safe from being hacked, and they will remain between you and the person you intended to read the messages.

WhatsApp is using AES-256 encryption to scramble the messages, which is uncrackable combined with HMAC-SHA256 secured authentication to exchange messages and for key verification. You can read WhatsApp’s Encryption Overview whitepaper here.

How to make sure your messages are encrypted

The good news is that WhatsApp has activated end-to-end encryption by default. All you need to do is update to the latest version of WhatsApp. It’s important to note that the encryption is only active if all chat participants are using the latest version of WhatsApp. If one person in a group chat does not have the encryption activated, the entire chat is unsecured. To check if your chats are encrypted, click on the person or group’s name at the top of the chat. Towards the bottom you will see if the chat is encrypted or not.

In the image below, we can see that someone in my group chat did not update their WhatsApp and our group chat communications are, therefore, unencrypted.


A step forward for privacy

Filip Chytry, Manager, Mobile Threat Intelligence, said: “It’s great that WhatsApp took the step to encrypt all the messages sent with their service –  they are finally following security standards that have already been implemented by other services, such as Telegram. For the user, end-to-end encryption means better security for everyone using the service.

Due to the encryption, WhatsApp can no longer view chat content, however, it is important to note that metadata is still visible to WhatsApp. For example, they can still see who you are communicating with, but they can no longer view or listen to the content of the messages.”

With all of the recent data leaks and reports of governments spying on citizens, this move by WhatsApp comes at a time when communication privacy is a hot topic. With WhatsApp’s update, its one billion users will be safe from unwanted spying.

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