WhatsApp is now allowing users to encrypt message backups to cloud servers, filling a long-recognized privacy vulnerability in the Facebook-owned software.
In a post on Friday, Mark Zuckerberg revealed the upgrade, praising the engineering effort that went into bringing the new feature to life.
“WhatsApp is the first global messaging service of this magnitude to provide end-to-end encryption and backups,” says the company.
“Getting there was an extremely difficult technical problem that necessitated an entirely new framework for critical storage and cloud storage across operating systems,” wrote Zuckerberg on Facebook.
WhatsApp already has end-to-end encryption for messages, which means that only the sender and receiver can view the content being shared—anyone else attempting to intercept it will be unable to read it.
However, computer experts and privacy advocates have noted that there are still flaws in this structure for WhatsApp users: even if others can’t view your exact messages, metadata connected with them, such as the time a message exchange took place, can reveal information.
Another flaw was the inability to encrypt saved messages to the cloud, because previously encrypted chats were eventually saved in a comprehensible manner if they were backed up to iCloud, for example.
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According to TechCrunch, law enforcement organizations have been known to use this to gain access to suspects’ WhatsApp communications.
This next level of encryption, according to a whitepaper provided by the corporation, would prevent that from happening.
Users will receive a unique generated encryption key (which will be known to WhatsApp) before storing messages to their preferred cloud servers, such as Google Drive or iCloud,
and will then have the option to set a password or supplementary encryption key (which will be unknown to WhatsApp).
The concept is compared to a bank safe deposit box in the paper, with the premise that customers will have sole access to their backup message box owing to the second password or key,
with the first encryption key acting as a safety net for those who forget the one they generated.
According to a WhatsApp representative, after the encrypted backup is saved, the messaging software will instantly remove any prior backups.
The news comes just days after ProPublica launched an investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy safeguards.
According to ProPublica, the corporation has an “extensive surveillance operation” that allows contractors to view unencrypted messages for moderation reasons if they have been “identified by users and automatically forwarded to the company as potentially abusive.”
WhatsApp’s participation in releasing user data in a case against a federal employee who leaked information to the media was also mentioned.
After receiving negative feedback, the app extended the time for users to accept the upgrade, albeit those who do not do so will lose functionality.
WhatsApp’s demise has benefited other messaging services, such as Signal and Telegram, that have made privacy a major focus.
This new function will be available in the “coming weeks,” according to TechCrunch.
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