WhatsApp Encrypts Communication of 1 Billion People

by Matt Klassen on April 8, 2016

whatsapp encryptionAlthough the battle between the FBI and Apple over iPhone encryption standards has dominated the headlines for the last few months, a few guys in a room in Mountain View, California just made all that seem like small potatoes. For you see, Mountain View is home to the insanely popular online communication service, WhatsApp, a subsidiary of Facebook, which boasts approximately one billion users worldwide, and WhatsApp just added default end-to-end encryption on all communication through its service, including file transfers and voice calls.

Consider that at stake in the FBI vs. Apple fight were about 300 million iPhones, give or take, around the world, and while that stands as a significant portion of smartphone users, WhatsApp has more than three times that user base, all of whom can now enjoy fully encrypted communication with the latest version of the app, whether it’s on an iPhone, an Android phone, a Windows phone, or even an old Nokia feature flip phone.

While many are lauding this as a victory for privacy, security, and free speech, you can imagine the headaches it will now cause for government and law enforcement agencies, who having fended off the potential security threat posed by the iPhone hordes, are now confronted with the veritable legions of WhatsApp users.

As WhatsApp explains, “The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.”

Amnesty International hailed the move as a “huge victory” for free speech around the world.

“Whatsapp’s roll out of the Signal Protocol, providing end to end encryption for its one billion users worldwide, is a major boost for people’s ability to express themselves and communicate without fear,” the organisation said in a statement.

“This is a huge victory for privacy and free speech, especially for activists and journalists who depend on strong and trustworthy communications to carry out their work without putting their lives at greater risk.”

But again, not all are happy about the revelation that encryption comes standard on the communication of one billion people around the world, as FBI attorney James Baker has reportedly criticized the move, arguing that it undermines the important work of law enforcement.

“It has public safety costs. Folks have to understand that, and figure out how they are going to deal with that,” he said, according to the US News and World Report news site.

“Do they want the public to bear those costs? Do they want the victims of terrorism to bear those costs?”

Simply put, more than any company or service before, WhatsApp has truly delivered encryption to the masses, and it’ll be interesting to see if this truly is the beacon of privacy and security many of us see it as, or the threat to national security others continue to warn us about.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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