According to the Guardian newspaper report published on Friday i.e. the Facebook-owned mobile messaging service WhatsApp is susceptible to capture, sparking concern over an app advertised as putting an importance on privacy. Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 but it continues to operate as a separate app.
The Guardian report said that WhatsApp messages could be read without its billion-plus users perceptive due to a security backdoor in the way the company has executed its end-to-end encryption protocol.
The system trusts on unique security keys “that are traded and verified between users to guarantee communications are secure and cannot be captured by a middleman,” the report said.
But WhatsApp can force the group of new encryption keys for offline users “unbeknown to the sender and recipient of the messages,” it said.
Tobias Boelter, a cryptography researcher at the University of California told the Guardian: “If WhatsApp is asked by a government agency to disclose its messaging records, it can effectively grant access due to the change in keys.”
Boelter said he had reported the backdoor vulnerability to Facebook in April 2016 and was told that Facebook was already aware of the issue but that it was not actively being worked on. The company said in a statement that it provided a “simple, fast, reliable and secure” service. It said there was a way of notifying users when a contact’s security code had changed.
“We know the most common reasons this happens are because someone has switched phones or reinstalled WhatsApp…. In these situations, we want to make sure people’s messages are delivered, not lost in transit,” it said in a statement.
But the Guardian said it had verified that the security backdoor still exists. The paper repeated Steffen Tor Jensen, head of information security and digital counter-surveillance at the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights, saying: “WhatsApp can successfully continue flipping the security keys when devices are offline and re-sending the message, without letting users know of the change till after it has been made, providing an extremely insecure platform”.