Cops Can Still Troll Your What­sApp Chats, Par­tially

Though What­sApp will pro­vide end-toend en­cryp­tion, agen­cies can still get meta­data

The Economic Times - - Disruption: - Neha.Alawadhi @times­group.com

New Delhi: Mes­sag­ing ser­vice What­sApp’s de­ci­sion to roll out end-to-end en­cryp­tion for over 1 bil­lion sub­scribers has been hailed as a pos­i­tive step by users across the world, although things are set to get tougher for law en­force­ment and in­ves­tiga­tive agen­cies in In­dia seek­ing to track ter­ror­ists.

“It was any­way dif­fi­cult to get any kind of data from What­sApp and now it is go­ing to be even more dif­fi­cult,” said a per­son fa­mil­iar with the work­ing of these agen­cies, who did not wish to be iden­ti­fied.

En­cryp­tion scram­bles data such as text mes­sages, pho­tos and doc­u­ments and makes them un­in­tel­li­gi­ble for un­in­tended re­cip­i­ents. A ser­vice that is en­crypted end-toend can­not be mon­i­tored or in­ter­cepted. No one, ex­cept the peo­ple or groups com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each other, can ac­cess the data. If telecom com­pa­nies, in­ter­net providers or even com­pa­nies that run mes­sag­ing ser­vices try to in­ter­cept the mes­sage, all they would get is gar­bled data.

While chats will not be ac­ces­si­ble, as­so­ci­ated in­for­ma­tion known as meta­data will be avail­able, such as when the con­ver­sa­tions took place, the iden­ti­ties of senders and re­cip­i­ents, their lo­ca­tions, mo­bile num­bers, pro­file pho­tos and ad­dress books, which may be use­ful for se­cu­rity agen­cies.

“Def­i­nitely for law en­force­ment it means a big headache, but the meta­data is there and with meta­data, if you have a cou­ple of other bits of in­for­ma­tion, you can piece it to­gether,” said Su­nil Abraham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at Bengaluru-based re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion Cen­tre for In­ter­net and So­ci­ety. “Agen­cies can get the meta­data, but they won’t get the pay­load un­less they’re able to com­pro­mise the de­vice. And that in­tel­li­gence agen­cies like NSA (Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency of the US) have been able to do in the past.” While en­cryp­tion of­fers pri­vacy and se­cu­rity to users, it is the bane of law en­force­ment agen­cies glob­ally, as ex­em­pli­fied most re­cently and no­tably by the Ap­pleFBI dis­pute in the US. The Federal En­cryp­tion scram­bles data such as text mes­sages, pho­tos & doc­u­ments, and makes sure no one but peo­ple part of the con­ver­sa­tion can read it Yup. They will not be able to read the con­ver­sa­tion but info like meta­data will be avail­able If you don’t know, meta­data con­tains in­for­ma­tion like when the con­ver­sa­tions took place, the iden­ti­ties of senders & re­cip­i­ents, lo­ca­tions, mo­bile num­bers and pro­file pho­tos.

Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion asked Ap­ple to weaken its en­cryp­tion to ac­cess a dead ter­ror­ist’s iPhone data and af­ter the com­pany re­fused, hacked into the de­vice with help from a third party.

SUNILABRAHAM Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Cen­tre for In­ter­net and So­ci­ety With meta­data, if you have a cou­ple of other bits of in­for­ma­tion, you can piece it to­gether

In In­dia, it is dif­fi­cult to bring USbased com­pa­nies to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. “We have had min­i­mum co­op­er­a­tion from What­sApp. All the data is con­trolled in the US and they rarely hand over the data that we re­quest. We don’t ask them for con­tent. We only ask for meta­data,” said another per­son fa­mil­iar with the process who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied.

While the In­dian IT Act gives wide-rang­ing pow­ers to the gov­ern­ment to ask for ac­cess to en­crypted in­for­ma­tion, very few re­quests for in­for­ma­tion take the le­gal route. One rea­son is the long time that it takes to process such re­quests — on av­er­age, over three years – and the other, es­pe­cially in the case of What­sApp, is lit­tle or no co­op­er­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

Hi, What­sApp has en­abled en­cryp­tion, what does it mean? What are you say­ing, law en­force­ment can’t read any­thing?

Now, what is meta­data?

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