WhatsApp launches end-to-end encrypted BACKUPS: Users can now protect all their stored messages, photos, video, files, and calls with a password or an 64-digit key 

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  • Facebook launched end-to-end encryption for on-device messages in 2016
  • This new feature will lock all WhatsApp backup files behind a secure encryption
  • Users will need a password to unlock the 64-digit encrypted backup file

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WhatsApp has launched end-to-end encrypted backup that will allow users to protect all their stored messages, photos, videos and calls with a password or a 64-digit key.

According to a spokesperson for the social media giant, the feature is being rolled out globally for iOS and Android users to provide an ‘optional extra layer of security’ to existing backups.

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Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, said that with end-to-end encrypted backups, the entire messaging process is now more secure, even when stored in the cloud.

It claims that no other messaging service on the scale of WhatsApp ‘provides a level of overall protection for users’ content’.

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The update means that the backup file will also have encryption, on top of the encryption provided by cloud storage solutions like iCloud, Google Drive and Dropbox.

WhatsApp has launched end-to-end encrypted backup that will allow users to protect all their stored messages, photos, videos and calls with a password or a 64-digit key.

Users can choose to protect their backup file with a 64-digit encryption key, or simply with a password

Users can choose to protect their backup file with a 64-digit encryption key, or simply with a password

How end-to-end encrypted backups work on WhatsApp

When the account owner uses a personal password to protect their end-to-end encrypted backup, ‘Backup Key Vault’ will store and protect it until it is recovered.

When one wants to recover their backup:

  • They enter their password, which is encrypted and then verified by Backup Key Vault
  • Once the password is verified, Backup Key Vault will send the encryption key back to WhatsApp
  • With the key in hand, the WhatsApp client can decrypt the backup

Alternatively, if an account owner chose to use a 64-digit key alone, they would have to enter the key themselves to decrypt and access their backups.

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The firm says that the new feature will provide users with greater privacy and security for their digital interactions.

To ensure a consistent and reliable user experience for people on iOS and Android, it is being rolled out gradually across the world, not all at once.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “WhatsApp was built on a simple idea: what you share with your friends and family stays with you.”

The firm added end-to-end encryption to Messages about five years ago, and it protects about 100 billion messages per day shared among two billion users.

However, this only applies to messages sent, received, and stored on the user’s device – as of now, rather than any regular backups that WhatsApp does for you.

“We are providing an additional, optional layer of security to protect backups stored on Google Drive or iCloud with end-to-end encryption,” Zuckerberg said.

‘No other global messaging service at this scale provides this level of security for its users’ messages, media, voice messages, video calls and chat backups.

Users can use the feature to secure end-to-end encrypted backups with passwords or 64-digit encryption keys that only they know.

Neither WhatsApp nor the backup service provider, be it Apple, Google, Microsoft or Dropbox, will not be able to read the backup or access the key required to unlock it.

“With over 2 billion users, we are excited to give people more options to protect their privacy,” a spokesperson said.

A good way to think about it is that it would be similar to a safety deposit box in a bank, but more secure – only the account owner would have the keys.

“We believe this will provide our users with a meaningful advance in protecting their personal messages,” Facebook said.

Users are also able to secure their backups with a password, linked to a key vault where a 64 digit encryption key is saved by WhatsApp, but is not accessible to WhatsApp.

Users are also able to secure their backups with a password, linked to a key vault where a 64 digit encryption key is saved by WhatsApp, but is not accessible to WhatsApp.

What is end-to-end encryption?

End-to-end encryption ensures that only two participants of the chat can read the message, and no one in between – not even the company that owns the service.

The purpose of end-to-end encryption is to prevent data from being read or secretly modified when it is in transit between two parties.

The cryptographic keys required to access the service are automatically provided to only two people in each conversation.

In decrypted form, the messages can be accessed by third parties – which makes them interceptable by governments for law enforcement reasons.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp is already encrypted, and now Mark Zuckerberg wants to do the same with Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct.

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People can already back up their WhatsApp message history through cloud-based services like Google Drive and iCloud.

WhatsApp does not have access to these backups, and they are protected by separate cloud-based storage services.

But now, if people choose to enable end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) backup, neither WhatsApp nor the backup service provider will be able to access their backups or their backup encryption keys.

To enable E2EE backup, Facebook developed an entirely new system for storing encryption keys that works with both iOS and Android.

With E2EE Backup enabled, the backup will be encrypted with a unique, randomly generated encryption key. Users can then choose to manually protect the key or use the password associated with their WhatsApp account.

When one opts for a password, the key is stored in a backup key vault which is created based on a component called Hardware Security Module.

It is a specific, secure piece of hardware that can be used to securely store encryption keys that cannot be accessed without the correct password.

When the account owner needs access to their backup, they can access it with their encryption key, or they can use their personal password to recover their encryption key…

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