WhatsApp announced on Tuesday that all messages sent through the most recent version of its app will be fully encrypted, Tech Insider reported.
Encryption is now applied to every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file, and voice message you send, according to the WhatsApp blog. The massive security upgrade comes just weeks after Apple was asked by the US government to break the encryption on an iPhone that belonged to a terrorist involved in the San Bernardino shooting.
WhatsApp, which has more than one billion users globally and is owned by Facebook, is using an open-source encryption standard from Open Whisper Systems. The same encryption has been used by whistle blowers like Edward Snowden.
The Justice Department has considered pursing legal action against WhatsApp’s encryption efforts in recent months, according to The New York Times. Now that WhatsApp is encrypted, the company won’t be technically able to hand over records of its messages to governments.
The messaging app began adding encryption to its service back in 2013 but didn’t fully commit to implementing it with Open Whisper until 2014, reports Wired. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum was the first prominent tech leader to publicly back Apple’s refusal to help the FBI create a back door into the iPhone in February of this year.
Now WhatsApp has firmly and resolutely planted its stake in the ground for encryption. “The desire to protect people’s private communication is one of the core beliefs we have at WhatsApp, and for me, it’s personal,” said Koum on the company’s blog. “I grew up in the USSR during communist rule and the fact that people couldn’t speak freely is one of the reasons my family moved to the United States.”
Koum also said that weak encryption can lead to abuse from cybercriminals, hackers, and rogue states. He sees WhatsApp as a leader in the encryption movement. “While WhatsApp is among the few communication platforms to build full end-to-end encryption that is on by default for everything you do, we expect that it will ultimately represent the future of personal communication,” he said.