WhatsApp switches on end-to-end encryption
WhatsApp's latest update means no one, including governments, can intercept messages
Parent company, Facebook, has announced it has strengthened the default encryption settings on its WhatsApp messaging service.
With over one billion users, the latest version of the app means all messages will now only be accessible to the sender and recipient. The security encryption technology ensures WhatsApp messages cannot be intercepted as they travel between devices.
WhatsApp began working on end-to-end encryption two years ago, with the help of software provider Open Whisper Systems, a security non-profit organisation. In 2014, it began providing encryption by default on text-only messages between two individuals, however group messages and messaging embedded with rich media, such as photos and videos were not fully encrypted.
In an official blog post, WhatsApp made reference to the FBI and Apple case, plus it indicated the company itself will not have the measures to read user messages, which in effect means it will be unable to provide any information to governments, even if it wanted to.
"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," WhatsApp said in a blog post announcing the update. "Not cyber-criminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.
"Recently there has been a lot of discussion about encrypted services and the work of law enforcement. While we recognise the important work of law enforcement in keeping people safe, efforts to weaken encryption risk exposing people's information to abuse from cyber-criminals, hackers, and rogue states."
This indicates, the company itself will not have the measures to read user messages, which in effect means it will be unable to provide any information to governments, even if it wanted to.
Facebook's decision to implement these security measures is due to the high-profile FBI case, where the FBI attempted to force Apple to unlock an encrypted iPhone belonging to a Syed Farouk, who along with his wife, killed 14 people and wounded 22 at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, in December.
F5 Networks' Gary Newe, director systems engineering of UK, Ireland and Africa commented: "WhatsApp's move to provide end-to-end encryption to its 1 billion users is a significant step in demonstrating it is serious about increasing user privacy.
"The latest update to the app will ensure that everything sent from one user to another - whether that's messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents or calls - will be secured from falling into the wrong hands. Even WhatsApp won't have access to this data, which will make it more challenging for governments and law enforcement agencies to gain access to data for lawful purposes."
He added: "There are still a high number of apps available to download which don't have the necessary encryption in place, which leaves users vulnerable to malware and exposed to criminals looking to steal their data. The prevalence of WhatsApp means it is under greater scrutiny to ensure user security and a bigger target for hackers to infiltrate its network."
At the time of writing, the UAE's telecom regulator, the TRA, had not commented.