Devs Ramp Up Security in Wake of FBI iPhone Unlock Fight

| Analysis

Well done, FBI. In its fight to kill encryption-based privacy and security, public awareness is on the rise, and now WhatsApp expanded its built-in encryption to all supported devices all the time. The end result is that everyone—honest people and criminals alike—have yet another way to keep their private conversations from snoopy friends, bad guys, and the government.

WhatsApp gives all users end-to-end encryptionWhatsApp gives all users end-to-end encryption

WhatsApp is a messaging app similar to Apple's own Messages that keeps conversations encrypted and private. The developers added end-to-end encryption for Android users in late 2014, but iPhone and iPad users weren't included in the WhatsApp privacy circle at the time. That changed this week with the announcement that all WhatsApp users, regardless of platform, now have end-to-end encryption available and active by default.

The change is great news for anyone who wants their conversations kept private when Apple's iMessage platform isn't an option, meaning chats with anyone who isn't using an Apple product. As of now, however, all WhatsApp users are on the same playing field. The company said in a blog post,

We've completed a technological development that makes WhatsApp a leader in protecting your private communication: full end-to-end encryption. From now on when you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file, and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats.

The announcement comes in the wake of the FBI's very public fight to try to force Apple to create a less secure version of iOS that bypasses the security measures blocking brute force attacks on lockscreen passcodes. Working around those security features would give the FBI, or anyone else who got their hands on the code, a relatively easy way to get at all the encrypted data on our iPhones and iPads, including photos, contacts, and chats.

The FBI was able to obtain a court order compelling Apple to create the software, but the company filed a motion to vacate the order along with a formal objection. Apple said the FBI was looking to set a precedent where the government could force companies to make tools to circumvent their own device security and encryption measures, and that there wasn't any legal authority to do so.

The San Bernardino fight was dropped when the FBI found an unnamed company with the ability to work around the iPhone's passcode. The DOJ and FBI are refusing to give Apple any details about the exploit, leaving potentially millions of iPhones susceptible should the technique leak.

Next up: Blocking the backdoors

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