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Encrypted Communication: The Debate Goes On

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Sony Creative Software Inc.

The security versus privacy debate fires up again with Whatsapp’s latest update. Whatsapp have implemented strong end to end encryption across all the mobile platforms it serves including Apple and Android. Being the most popular messaging app in the world makes the change a controversial one. There are over a billion active users worldwide who use the app, and while privacy supporters are praising the encryption measures, critics argue that if law enforcement agencies can’t access the data then this will simply make it the chosen network for criminal networks.

With the update installed all messages will only be accessible to the sender and the recipient and all communications including photos, videos, group chats and voice calls will be encrypted by default making it the most secure form of communication available right now. No one will be able to access this data – not cybercriminals or hackers, not oppressive regimes and not even whatsapp.

On one hand this will stop rogue governments from spying on their own citizens and it means anything sensitive we are sending can’t be improperly accessed or stolen. Which is definitely reassuring. However, governments often rely on the likes of Whatsapp to intercept online messages and this is where the debate really heats up as criminals and armed groups will have a platform where their tracks will be automatically hidden. It is thought that Whatsapp was used to coordinate the Paris attacks for example.

So it leads back to the FBI versus Apple case where building a backdoor which would allow only police etc access to data, the whole encryption system would be rendered completely worthless. If there is a backdoor for one party there is basically a backdoor for all. And again similar to Apple, Whatsapp themselves don’t hold the encryption keys and therefore they will be unable to hand over any messaging data, even if obligated to do so by the police or FBI.

In saying this though there is still one major weakness for people who are highly concerned about privacy. The metadata is not secret so it is still possible to see who communicated with whom, when the messages were sent and how frequently. So while for now the contents are secure, the data is not private or warrant-proof.

Anyway, one thing is for sure – the debate will rage on!

 

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