It's not a virus and you're not being hacked.
Did you get that strange WhatsApp encryption message when you opened the app today? Don’t worry, you haven’t been hacked, it’s not a virus and nobody is spying on your chat.
Quite the opposite, actually.
WhatsApp users everywhere received an in-app message today, reading: “Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption, which means WhatsApp and third parties can’t read or listen to them.”
So what does it mean? In short, the update simply means that nobody but yourself and the recipient(s) can read your messages.
Not the people behind WhatsApp, not cybercriminals, not hackers and not, as a WhatsApp statement puts it, ‘oppressive regimes’ either.
Of course, the update comes as Apple and the FBI go head to head over over a controversial federal order to unlock the iPhone of a man involved in the San Bernadino mass shootings. But while it may seem like responsive action to the Stateside debate, WhatsApp has revealed that this is actually the last iteration of an 18 month encryption project, which began back in November 2014.
Nonetheless, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that while the Apple versus the FBI debate rages on, WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption update has just ringfenced the communications of over a billion people worldwide.
Explaining the update fully, WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton have issued an online statement which reads:
“From now on when you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file, and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats.
“The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to.
“We live in a world where more of our data is digitized than ever before. Every day we see stories about sensitive records being improperly accessed or stolen. And if nothing is done, more of people’s digital information and communication will be vulnerable to attack in the years to come. Fortunately, end-to-end encryption protects us from these vulnerabilities.”
The statement also includes a personal message from Jan, who describes why protecting personal communication is so vitally important to him.
“I grew up in the USSR during communist rule and the fact that people couldn’t speak freely is one of the reasons my family moved to the United States.
“Today more than a billion people are using WhatsApp to stay in touch with their friends and family all over the world. And now, every single one of those people can talk freely and securely on WhatsApp.”
The update also quashes rumours that personal information stored in the app could be used for advertising, which many users raised as a concern after Facebook bought ownership of WhatsApp in 2014.
So, that’s that one cleared up!