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Are your WhatsApp messages really private?

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

21 March 2014

Now, just weeks after Facebook acquired WhatsApp in a landmark $16 billion deal, reporters and security consultants have been casting doubts over the security of WhatsApp messaging.

The claim made by security professionals is that it is possible to access anyone’s WhatsApp chats through freely available Android apps.

When you chose to use WhatsApp’s own back up facility, to protect you from losing messages in the event of losing the app or getting a new phone, then WhatsApp stores them on a database that uses the same encryption key for every user. While this may sound fairly innocuous, it actually means that the database’s storage is insecure, meaning that your messages may be at risk.

What this means is that another app developer could gain access to your chats when they are on the database and could even decrypt them. It also opens up the possibility that other apps could steal your data from there.

WhatsApp has yet to formally comment on the issue, but with their Facebook takeover it’s fairly safe to assume that some big changes will be on the way for WhatsApp’s users. Facebook’s attempt to move to a more profits-based structure has been mounting for some time, and there have been rumblings about the end of WhatsApp’s free service for some time now.

However, unless the company can ensure its users a totally safe and reliable service, it might find that the exodus away from its service is shocking and abrupt, especially with the media’s focus on web security in the recent months.

Facebook’s track record with privacy and security has been notoriously terrible; if they want to keep that negativity from sullying the up-to-now positive name of WhatsApp, they are going to have to make some serious changes to how WhatsApp saves user’s data.

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