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WhatsApp encrypting backups

Date: 15 September 2021 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

The chats back-up of users on Google drive and iCloud will be end-to-end encrypted after a new feature has been introduced by the company.

 

Background

The move is part of effort by the company to introduce end-to-end encryption in all aspects of the application and closing a major loop hole.

 

Details

  • Majority of users back-up their chats, including messages, photos and videos shared with others. These back-ups are usually stored on Google drive or iCloud.

  • The back-up will come handy in case the phone is broken or stolen. The data stored on cloud can be transferred to the new phone.

  • The company does not own cloud storage and relies on partners such as Google and iCloud to provide services to the users.

  • The cloud does not have encryption and once they are out of the encryption channel they will not be private anymore.

  • Enforcement agencies have been able to gain access to the users’ back-up chats from the cloud by having a warrant.

 

The working

  • Once a user needs to encrypt the backup, a 64-digit key will be generated that will be needed for the backup to be restored at a later point in time.

  • WhatsApp has designed the system like a safe deposit vault offered by banks, where one key to a vault is provided to the customer to ensure that no one from the bank can open the vault without access to the key given to the customer.

  • The encryption of the backup takes place before it is uploaded to one of the two cloud services and will stay there as an encrypted file that can be accessed only with the use of the 64-digit key. 

  • When customer needs to retrieve their backups, they enter their password, which is encrypted and then verified by the Backup Key Vault. 

 

Impact

The move is likely to be opposed by governments across the globe so that they can gain access to user messages during investigation.