WhatsApp made a major move in the history of Internet security by encrypting all data exchanged via its service.
You may have noticed when you woke up to message your Mom that yes, you are still alive and eating choripan in Buenos Aires, that you received a message in a yellow bubble that read: “Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption. Tap for more info.” WhatsApp has partially encrypted its data since 2014, but only texts were secure. This move affects WhatsApp’s 1 billion users and of course the majority Argentines, where WhatsApp was used by 18 billion people as of September 2015, surpassing any other communication app.
WhatsApp made this move quietly, with a team of 15 engineers led by the notorious cryptographer and coder who goes by Moxie Marlinspike — his personal website thoughtcrime.org is a reference to none other than George Orwell’s 1984.
This move comes in the wake of Apple’s prolific legal fight with the FBI; the company has thus far refused to help develop a master key to unlock iPhones of suspected terrorists, citing the importance of keeping the Internet secure. WhatsApp founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum agree, with Acton explaining: “Technology is an amplifier, with the right stewards in place, with the right guidance, we can really effect positive change.” Koum added: “The argument can be made: Maybe you want to trust the government, but you shouldn’t because you don’t know where things are going to go in the future.” Then he dropped the mic. The revolution will not be televised, but it’s happening now.
For the uninitiated, end to end encryption is an increasingly popular tool in Internet security. When working properly, it ensures that only the sender and receiver of the data can receive the message by scrambling the message. Unscrambling the message requires an encrypted key accessible only to the user. The legal ramifications of WhatsApp’s surprise move have yet to be tested in the courts, but rest assured that it will have its day as soon as the FBI “requires” cooperation.