While many people just think of WhatsApp as a convenient way to send messages from mobile devices, the company has taken serious steps to respond to recent concerns over global tracking and surveillance of mobile messages. In fact, WhatsApp now supports something called deniability of a message, or what’s sometimes called repudiation of any kind of transaction. This means that you could actually deny being the person who sent a particular message when you really did send it. Why would you want to do deny sending a message, and why would WhatsApp want to let you do that?
WhatsApp wants to honor the trust that its user base puts in the platform, and users today are concerned with privacy risks and the prevalence of global surveillance. So, the company recently rolled out a very interesting upgrade to its messaging app that not only encrypts information from end-to-end to avoid snooping by governments or other potential eavesdroppers, but it also takes measures to expose the keys used to encrypt the messages, after the conversation ends. This means that even if the encryption for a message was cracked, the senders of the messages could not be irrefutably tied to a particular message. So, they apparently have plausible deniability that they ever sent the message. Here’s a link to a description of the feature they call OTR Deniability, which is part of the new open source SIGNAL security protocol for messaging that they have integrated into the app.
While this may not seem like a big deal, it can mean a lot in certain legal situations, where proof of who sent which messages may be needed in order to settle a claim, or convict a criminal. If either of the parties in the messaging conversation feels that there might be this kind of risk, they would find great value in using a protocol that is designed to provide this kind of plausible deniability. As with most powerful tools, this platform can be used for both good and evil. So, law enforcement authorities are understandably concerned about how bad guys might revert to using WhatsApp to commit crimes without leaving an audit trail that could prove their involvement in planning their activities. However, these days, most security and privacy experts agree that having strong security and privacy provides benefits for legitimate users, and the pursuit of commerce and social interaction online that outweigh the risks from those who would abuse these tools.
That said, there’s no absolute security, especially in the mobile world. So, only time will tell if the app will prove to be as secure as most users want it to be.
In any case, it looks like WhatsApp is becoming a trusted platform for people who are concerned about their privacy when sending messages online.