WhatsApp backups to get end-to-end encryption

WhatsApp images with its new feature fore end-to-end encryption for backups

Facebook has announced plans to roll out end-to-end encryption for WhatsApp chat history on both Android and iOS versions of the app.

The feature, which is to be slowly rolled out to those using the latest version of the chat app, will allow users to secure backups before they are saved in iCloud or Google Drive storage, where neither WhatsApp or the cloud service provider will be able to access the files.

Users will be able to use a password to encrypt the backup or use a 64-digit encryption key, the has company confirmed.

WhatsApp has offered secure messaging since 2016 and the company started testing encrypted backups earlier this year. With Wednesday's announcement, Facebook said it had taken the final step towards providing a full end-to-end encrypted messaging experience on WhatsApp.

In essence, end-to-end encryption lets only the sender and receiver see the contents of a message, and conceals it from the company providing the service. While this is an assurance to users of WhatsApp, it's a concern for governments and security professionals that feel there needs to be a way to access communications under certain circumstances.

WhatsApp has long been considered at the forefront of the industry when it comes to end-to-end encryption, and has repeatedly drawn the ire of those seeking to ban its use in telecommunications.

The UK's government has repeatedly called for a mechanism that can bypass the safeguards of a service. This would require service providers to be active participants in the interception and acquisition of user data as part of an investigation.

Charities, such as the NSPCC, and law enforcement agencies like Interpol and GCHQ, have also argued against end-to-end encryption on the grounds that it protects individuals and impedes investigations.

Even the European Union, which was once in favour of end-to-end encryption, has reportedly proposed regulations to ban it. A leaked document, dated 6 November, appeared to show that the Council of the European Union had a near-complete resolution to ban the use of end-to-end encryption on off-the-shelf apps, like WhatsApp or Signal. However, there has been no official announcement from the EU regarding the memo.

However, many cyber security professionals and industry lobbyists maintain that a so-called backdoor in end-to-end encryption would only make users more vulnerable to cyber crime.

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.