How Safe is WhatsApp’s Safe Messaging System?

We are always looking for a secure messaging app not realizing that safety is complicated. Yes, we know there are many apps out there that claim to be the safest. But then we are bombarded with news about how its safety was compromised. So the question is – are we truly safe in this digital age? Maybe not elsewhere, but perhaps in the messaging department we are, by WhatsApp’s safe messaging system.

Not so long ago we heard about the safety issues of WhatsApp – anyone could read your messages with a simple hack. Thankfully that is no longer possible. WhatsApp has taken the issue seriously, and it has taken drastic measures to ensure that safe messaging is not compromised.

Yes, we are talking about the end-to-end encryption technology. However, that did not convince some people, and they thought that Messenger or new entrants like Wire and Signal were more secure than WhatsApp. Today we cannot migrate to any messaging app without feeling like the big brother isn’t watching us 24/7. Hence the quest for the safest and most convenient messaging app keeps getting harder day by day.

Safe messaging: fact or fiction?

Even after so much precaution, WhatsApp again had security vulnerability last week. This time it was with the encryption. Apparently, the end-to-end encryption will not allow anyone to read your messages apart from the recipient. But this can be changed with a new encryption key. In fact, WhatsApp seems to have kept a backdoor for itself to modify the encryption any time it wishes to.

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton said that this is not to be taken too seriously. He mentioned that he would not create a backdoor for the governments. The feature is just to keep the security systems updated.

Compromise on your preferences for safe messaging

It is true that this is standard for the safety communications tool. They can just create new encryption keys for the offline users. WhatsApp’s problem, on the other hand, is that it can re-encrypt the messages for the user without informing the user or the recipient. It means that you might get intercepted between your communications without coming to know that there is any threat that you may face. WhatsApp can re-encrypt your messages any time without any security warning.

This is a fundamental violation of the security principles. However, Acton claims that this issue isn’t so critical that people should just install the app on their phones. If you have a concern that a third party is reading your messages to a particular contact, then you may verify their fingerprints. These are nothing but the digital marks associated with their keys. Or you can enable a setting that lets you know whenever your key is getting re-encrypted. So you can still verify if a third party is reading your messages or not.

But imagine your “key” getting re-encrypted ten times a day. Would you like your phone to keep popping with a tune throughout the day? WhatsApp makers are very concerned about this issue, and they do not want that users feel inconvenience to make up for safe messaging. It is the sole reason the app does not notify you whenever it changes its keys.

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Safe messaging: Methods applied

Two approaches can be applied in this context. One is blocking, and another is non-blocking. In the non-blocking system, you get a notification whenever your key alters. In the blocking method, you have to verify whether the new key is legitimate manually. Now for the technologically backward, the latter may seem pretty hard. At present WhatsApp is using the non-blocking method.

You may have noticed in the middle of chats sometimes a yellow security alert pops up. It is the same encryption protocol that Signal, the encrypted messaging tool from Open Whisper Systems, uses. Messenger and other apps like that use blocking system.

Sometime in the past Signal tried to make non-blocking a default option and blocking option enabled if some users wanted it. However, some users wrote to them saying they did not want blocking as an option. They said that most users wanted to ensure that the communications were safe and secure. They wanted to know when the changes were occurring. One thing they strictly did not want is these messages interrupting them again and again.

Hence, there are two main problems that the messaging apps face – of security and convenience and somewhere the messaging apps today are striving to achieve a balance between the two. There have not been enough technological progress as of yet that both convenience and security can be guaranteed. So it is a given that we cannot have the best of both worlds. However, there is some for all.

Also Read: WhatsApp Video Calling Worth Or Not?

Is 100% safe messaging really possible?

CEO of Wire, Alan Duric said that it depends on the messaging service and the kind of risk they want to take. WhatsApp, on the other hand, has maintained that with its over 2 billion users, making the system blocking is not only difficult, and it is also impractical.

Wire does not send messages to people after changing their keys without their consent. As a result, the users receive a trunk load of notification. On the other hand, WhatsApp does not provide such notifications at all. It seems like users don’t have a choice but to go with whatever they prefer in their day to day lives.

More apps are now using encryption, but we cannot say that there is a single solution for this problem. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here. WhatsApp has approached the issue with considerable care, and that is more than what others are doing.

If people are now to uninstall and switch to other apps, they might be handing themselves over a less considerate app. WhatsApp has still managed to have the largest encryption network in the world. And since there’s a lack of single solution, we’ll say choose a single system that goes along with your preferences.

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