WhatsApp promises end-to-end encryption for its app, meaning any text message or file you send through WhatsApp has the highest form of security available in regular digital communications. The scenario, however, changes when these messages are stored in the cloud.
Any chat backup stored in the cloud, either Google Drive or iCloud, can be accessed by third parties through the cloud service providers. Such instances are usually observed when authorities of a region need such chats for an investigation.
In order to bring more privacy in this area, WhatsApp is now working on securing cloud backups for WhatsApp chats. The company was recently seen testing it out on an Android beta version. It now seems that it has prepared the functionality for iOS users too.
New screenshot shared by WABetaInfo on Twitter recently hints at the development. The screenshot shows an option to enable end-to-end encrypted backup that will backup WhatsApp users’ chats and media on iCloud and protect it “from unauthorized access.” The publication states that the encryption will be available to Apple users in a future update.
WhatsApp has been working relentlessly in this direction, and the recent update proves the same. After Android, an iCloud encryption shows that the company is testing out the feature for all its users and might soon roll it out globally.
For data privacy advocates, the timing could not have been better. That is because Apple recently announced its plans to thwart the distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on its network. The proposal includes a hashing mechanism that will scan the photos of Apple users stored on iCloud against preset templates depicting child sexual abuse.
While Apple’s intention is noble, several experts have voiced their concerns on the way Apple will be executing it. At the least, such hashing mechanisms are inaccurate in nature and might mark a completely irrelevant file as a CSAM. The files will then turn up on Apple’s servers for manual verification, where a human is very likely to see them before further action.
There are other data privacy threats present too, like Apple’s future motivations to use the feature, or an intervention by the government of any country that Apple operates in. The backend access to data is expected to compromise user privacy and there are several possible scenarios where it can be misused.
WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart raised such concerns against Apple’s tool in a series of tweets earlier, outrightly stating that WhatsApp will not adopt Apple’s new feature once it launches.
WhatsApp’s cloud encryption will come as proof of that commitment. Those who wish to opt-in will be able to keep their chat history and media securely backed up on the cloud. Since it will be available for both Android and iOS users, the feature will work with both Google Drive and iCloud.
A password will then be used to access or retrieve this chat backup. This password will be private and will not be shared with WhatsApp, Facebook, Google or Apple. Users can also create and use a 64-digit encryption key for the same purpose. Keep in mind though, losing both, the password and the encryption key, will lock away your account forever with no other retrieval mechanism.