With all the hoopla surrounding encryption and the U.S. Government’s desire to gain access to any and all data by any means necessary, many tech companies are taking notice. When Apple stood up to the government, it had the backing of some of the biggest names in tech. One of those companies was Facebook, and it’s now carrying on Apple’s penchant for defiance by enabling end-to-end encryption for all of its 1+ billion WhatsApp users worldwide.
Open Whisper Systems announced that its Signal Protocol has now been fully integrated into WhatsApp, which means encrypted communications via “chats, group chats, attachments, voice notes, and voice calls” for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry users.
WhatsApp users are receiving notifications today that shows when their individual and group chats are encrypted. Steps are also being taken to ensure that users aren’t forced into downgrading their WhatsApp client software by a hacker and that older clients without end-to-end encryption are tossed by the wayside in due time.
Open Whisper Systems writes:
Once a client recognizes a contact as being fully e2e capable, it will not permit transmitting plaintext to that contact, even if that contact were to downgrade to a version of the software that is not fully e2e capable. This prevents the server or a network attacker from being able to perform a downgrade attack.
Eventually all the pre-e2e capable clients will expire, at which point new versions of the software will no longer transmit or accept plaintext messages at all.
It should be noted that Open Whisper Systems isn’t stopping with just WhatsApp. Its open source protocol will eventually be integrated into other messaging systems, with the company writing in a blog post, “Over a billion monthly active users across the world are now using the Signal Protocol for end to end encryption. Over the next year, we will continue to work with additional messengers to amplify the impact and scope of private communication even further.”
The very contentious battle between Apple and the U.S. Government, specifically the FBI, brought the topic of encryption to the masses. The FBI took Apple to task for making its encryption so tough to crack that law enforcement agencies were having extreme difficulty (or no luck at all) in retrieving data from iPhones.
Apple’s assertion was that it was protecting user privacy and that the government was overreaching. In the end, the U.S. Government withdrew its lawsuit, which was aiming to force Apple to aid in unlocking an iPhone 5c. Instead, the FBI reportedly sought the help of Cellebrite to hack into the device.