WhatsApp: End-to-End Encryption for Billions of Users, What is it? Why is it Important?

The purpose of this post is to bring a little attention to something pretty extraordinary in ways that Whatsapp’s billion+ users may not (definitely do not) fully understand. End-to-End Encryption is a very big deal for a number of reasons. It means that any and all communications between you and the person you’re communicating with is truly private. But that doesn’t really mean anything if it isn’t explained further. Private from who exactly? From everyone with the exception of yourself and the person you are communicating with.

‘Okay, sure, but I’m still confused, what does that really mean?’

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You see my face right now? I don’t have the slightest idea what this guy is talking about, but I’ll try to make sense of it.

It means that, heaven forbid, there is a court order by the FBI, or any other type of law enforcement, to see what you and your friend were talking about having for lunch tomorrow via WhatsApp, and it was of the utmost importance to learn whether or not your friend, who claims they are on a diet, violated that diet, it would actually be impossible for the FBI to obtain that information. But why is that? Why would even the FBI be unable to learn this information? The answer is because even WhatsApp themselves as a company couldn’t obtain that kind of information, even if they wanted to. WhatsApp would be unable because it was never available in any kind of retrievable format on their servers to begin with. End-to-End Encryption essentially means that there is a secure and encrypted communication happening only between two devices. Only the specific devices involved in the exchange of information are actually capable of seeing the messages that are being sent back and forth. This is true for all kinds of communication on WhatsApp. Pictures, text messages, videos, voice notes, and even video calling are all encrypted end to end on WhatsApp.

What makes WhatsApp implementation of this technology such a big deal is that WhatsApp has over a billion users worldwide. That is insane, people. What else makes their particular use noteworthy? The user has to do nothing other than make sure they’re using the latest version of the app. End-to-End Encryption literally just works. No special tinkering or configuration needed. Open up WhatsApp, and just continue to use it as you always have, and you will be protected. From what has already been said, it should be obvious by now that there is really only one way for your messages and other communications to be seen: someone would need to be able to physically see your own, or the person you are communicating with’s phone. That is the only way. This initial part of this news post was pretty much for the layman to understand what is happening, and why this is such a big deal. Apps of this nature are cropping all over the place. Even facebook messenger has recently implemented this kind of technology. A key difference, however, is that you aren’t actually having a secure and private conversation unless you go out of your way to enable the feature. And that’s assuming that people even know the feature exists in the first place, which is kind of what makes WhatsApp the safer choice. There is one that people should still pay attention to, however, it’s called Signal Private Messenger, by Open Whisper Systems. Moxie Marlinspike, the person who runs Open Whisper, is who reached out to the WhatsApp founders in 2014 to assist them in implementing a lot of the end-to-end encryption technology that is now utilized on WhatsApp.

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Coder and Cryptographer Moxie Marlinspike of Open Whisper Systems

And this article, of course, must include a picture of WhatsApp’s founders, shown below:

On the left is Jan Koum, and on the right is Brian Acton. For those who are even more interested in the nitty gritty details of how this came about, and who wants to learn a little bit more on the subject, wired.com has a fantastic article on the subject, which you can find by clicking this link.

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