During recent weeks everybody’s been talking about WhatsApp and those glorious blue double-ticks, but in the meantime a much more important update has been released for Android that improves security through and through for sending and receiving messages via a new encryption system. Pavel Durov, creator of the messaging client Telegram, has dubbed this move the umpteenth copy of its strategy, even going as far as to predict the next features WhatsApp will add over the next months.
The arrival of this new encryption system to WhatsApp is the fruit of a collaboration over the past few months with the mobile security firm Open Whisper Systems, creators of the TextSecure messaging service, and its appeal lies principally in the fact that no one, including the infrastructure of WhatsApp itself, can intercept and read the messages that pass through the client, as they will only be decrypted when they arrive at their destination, at least in theory. At the moment it’s only used in chat conversations and only applies to text, meaning images still move “unprotected” across the network. And of course there’s no wall that can’t be scaled, so the decryption key could be uncovered with time as it’s not unique to each user, with the same formula being used for everybody.
How to predict what WhatsApp will do next https://t.co/vB8PAPyT2R
— Pavel Durov (@durov) November 19, 2014
Telegram was born with security as its primary concern, meaning all its development has centered on that aspect. Given the vast amount of information on WhatsApp and the fact that it’s modifying an initially weak system, they’re having a hard time offering a truly secure tool at the highest levels. Coincidentally, the first news about WhatsApp’s acquisition by Facebook came out in February, and the company confirms that they’ve been working on this security upgrade for the past six months. It almost seems like a divine mandate straight from Mark Zuckerberg himself.
There are lots of way to compromise user security, as shown by two Spanish IT guys last July, who found a vulnerability that allowed the stealing of a sender’s identity—and it wasn’t even the first time! Information security may have improved during sending, but at the local level, WhatsApp stores all sorts of information that can be harvested by any malicious software that you accidentally install on your phone, meaning they need to work to safeguard this data and forestall illegitimate access to it. You can just hear Jennifer Lawrence breathing a sigh of relief from her mansion in Beverly Hills.
It’s worth mentioning that Pavel Durov has a bit of a big mouth, aiming a continual stream of digs at WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum, whom he accuses of systematically copying all of Telegram’s new features just a few months after their launch. He predicts that his rival’s next step will be to add options to send files of any type, the launch of a web version of the client, self-destructing messages, and improvements in information routing via data-centers around the world.