Berlin (dpa) – Security has long been seen as a weak spot for chat app WhatsApp.
The company hopes it can put those fears to rest by adding total encryption for its millions of users.
The addition to its Android app was conducted in cooperation with a crew of recognised experts from a group called Open Whisper Systems. Open Whisper’s TextSecure system could end up being a test case for whether confidential messaging is possible and determine whether interest is built up for its own app, also called TextSecure.
That system is now what’s keeping WhatsApp messages secret, according to a blog entry from Open Whisper.
The upgrade means that billions of encrypted messages are now being sent daily.
However, so far, the encryption only works for personal messages, not for group chats or pictures and videos. However, work is progressing on encrypting those messages, as well as WhatsApp notes sent to other services.
WhatsApp has 600 million users worldwide and is available on both Android and iOS devices.
WhatsApp hopes the change will turn around the criticism it has received of late for its security problems, despite ongoing attempts at improvement.
But the new encryption does provide extra security, protecting the message on its entire journey from sender to recipient, or end-to-end encryption.
Only the recipient can open the message. Even WhatsApp can’t access it.
However, to work, both parties to the message need the new version of WhatsApp installed.
TextSecure’s programming code is open source, meaning independent experts have been able to peek inside and check it out. Such openness earned it the top point value for security from US media site ProPublica.
Nonetheless, TextSecure remains a minnow in comparison to WhatsApp.
Less than a million people have installed the Android app.
Opening the system up to WhatsApp customers is the biggest advance into end-to-end encryption in history, noted Open Whisper Systems.
It was key to make the encryption available as soon as possible, wrote Open Whisper, saying this was just the beginning.
The company has been working with WhatsApp for half a year. The announcement earlier this year that Facebook was buying WhatsApp led to a stream of customers out of WhatsApp, but the company says its growth rates remain strong.