Govern­ment at­tacks What­sapp se­cu­rity

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What hap­pened?

The govern­ment has re­port­edly ac­cused What­sapp of cre­at­ing a “black hole” in se­cu­rity intelligence by re­fus­ing to give it ac­cess to peo­ple’s en­crypted mes­sages. Sky News quoted an anony­mous se­cu­rity source, who claimed that ter­ror­ists are “fre­quent users” of en­crypted apps be­cause they know no one can read their mes­sages.

“It is cru­cially im­por­tant that we can ac­cess their com­mu­ni­ca­tions – and when we can’t, it can pro­vide a black hole for in­ves­ti­ga­tors,” the source added. Other com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­forms such as imes­sage and Tele­gram also pro­tect their users’ mes­sages via en­cryp­tion and do not al­low the govern­ment ac­cess to the in­for­ma­tion.

The news comes after Theresa May stressed that tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies should do more to help the govern­ment iden­tify se­cu­rity threats, fol­low­ing the bucket-bomb at­tack at Par­sons Green Tube sta­tion.

How will it af­fect you?

What­sapp en­crypts the con­tent of your mes­sages but it still al­lows the au­thor­i­ties to see other data such as your ac­count name, when the ac­count was cre­ated, the last known IP ad­dress used to ac­cess the ser­vice and the email ad­dress as­so­ci­ated with your ac­count. This sug­gests that it isn’t com­pletely wa­ter­tight for pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tions – es­pe­cially if you’re en­gag­ing in il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties.

But What­sapp has made it clear it wants to pro­tect its users, and this means mes­sages must stay en­crypted and hid­den from au­thor­i­ties, just as they are kept safe from crim­i­nals.

What do we think?

En­cryp­tion re­mains a thorny is­sue – no­body wants ter­ror­ists and other crim­i­nals to have a safe haven where they can evade the au­thor­i­ties. Yet law-abid­ing in­di­vid­u­als have a right to pri­vacy.

What­sapp it­self says: “We care­fully re­view, val­i­date, and re­spond to law en­force­ment re­quests based on ap­pli­ca­ble law and pol­icy, and we pri­ori­tise re­sponses to emer­gency re­quests.” Forc­ing the ser­vice to stop en­crypt­ing mes­sages will only en­tice crim­i­nals to use lesser known and less co­op­er­a­tive tools.

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