Recently on the RCS blog, we discussed WhatsApp, the uber-fun messaging platform that allows you and your billion besties to chat in groups with fun emojis and other perky features. We really like it but as we had mentioned in that and in other posts, WhatsApp has also been known to have its share of worrisome security issues like gaping vulnerabilities. Notably, there was last summer’s contact card security scare which was discovered by security researchers and there have been numerous scams associated with it such as phishing texts that pose as regular texts but carry potent malware-laden links.
WhatsApp ♥’s Encryption
But now comes some great, awesome, very good news, which, to be frank, we don’t hear too much of in this world. WhatsApp just announced last week that from now on, all conversations will be encrypted on the platform. (This is almost as awesome as when they announced they would be ditching the $1 a year after the 1st year fee.) And and as we have mentioned before here too, we love encryption. In the post ”Encryption: Why it should matter to you”, we discussed how encryption is the key to secure communications on the web. For a quick recap, encryption is the process of taking plain text data (like this article and pretty much everything else you read on the web, unless you are an anagrams fan) and converting it to cipher text, or encoded data. In a nutshell, messages get encrypted with a key and the only way to decipher the text is with a correlating key. In this case, you have one key and the person or group you are corresponding with has the other. You can read all about the nitty-gritties of the process here. For now, suffice to say that this pro-privacy move is one that is highly appreciated.
According to The New York Times, quoting WhatsApp honchos themselves, the company sees that end to end encryption is the key to beating vulnerabilities that compromise their users “Every day we see stories about sensitive records being improperly accessed or stolen. And if nothing is done, more of people’s digital information and communication will be vulnerable to attack in the years to come.”
How it will affect you (don’t worry, it’s all good!)
In practicality, if you use WhatsApp this means that you and the person or group you are chatting with can see what’s going on but there is no way for that conversation to be breached. This might not sound so important when you just want your sister to send you her very best French Toast recipe, but WhatsApp has wider uses as well – schools use it to communicate with parents, and colleagues can use it to relay group messages with ease. The fact that now WhatsApp is taking the security of its users more seriously puts it on par with the other messaging platforms that adopted the higher standards such as Telegram and Wickr.
The important thing to note is that in order for your conversations to be encrypted all the members of a given group need to update to the latest version of the app. If there is any member that hasn’t installed the update, the entity conversation will remain unencrypted. Luckily, WhatsApp makes it easy to update and once you have updated, encryption will be automatic.
We applaud WhatsApp and are thankful that they are taking the privacy and security of their users seriously!