Watch: WhatsApp encryption... in 60 seconds

Instant messaging service WhatsApp has announced it has completed a move to fully encrypt all the content within its app, enhancing user privacy in the process.

Wednesday, 6th April 2016, 2:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th April 2016, 2:26 pm

The announcement follows Apple’s high-profile battle with the FBI over encrypted content on a terror suspect’s iPhone, and the technology giant’s refusal to co-operate in unlocking the device, citing user privacy and security.

Until the announcement, only text-based messages sent in one-to-one conversations were encrypted WhatsApp. However, all content within WhatsApp, including voice calls, videos and group conversations across both iOS and Android are now covered by what is known as “end-to-end encryption”.

Encryption involves scrambling data so it is unreadable unless a secret key or password is entered. In general smartphone terms this is the passwords and keycodes used to lock devices and log-in to various accounts.

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Both Apple and Google encrypt the data within their user’s smartphones by default in order to protect sensitive information from potential hackers, but governments have increased pressure on the firms in recent months to help make such data more accessible, claiming the current levels of protection are enabling terror cells to communicate without detection.

In the Apple case, the FBI used a third-party in order to gain access to the iPhone.

In a blog post announcing the full roll-out of encryption within the app, WhatsApp’s partners in the programme, Open Whisper, said: “As of today, the integration is fully complete. Users running the most recent versions of WhatsApp on any platform now get full end to end encryption for every message they send and every WhatsApp call they make when communicating with each other.”

WhatsApp has over a billion active users, and cyber security expert Gary Newe from security firm F5 Networks said the move will hamper government surveillance.

“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,” he said.

“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.”