WhatsApp will now allow users to end-to-end encrypt their chat history back-ups as an “extra, optional layer of security” to protect an account.
The Facebook-owned messaging service said the system would enable users on both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android to encrypt the back-up of their conversations that is stored on either Google Drive or iCloud, a level of security “no other global messaging service at this scale provides”.
The feature will first reach those people running the latest version of the app and can be activated by tapping on a new end-to-end encrypted back-up option which will appear in the app’s settings.
Those who choose to use the feature will be asked to secure it by creating either a password or using an encryption key – with WhatsApp confirming that the system would mean neither it nor the back-up service providers will be able to read a user’s back-ups or access the key required to unlock it.
“WhatsApp was built on a simple idea: what you share with your friends and family stays between you. Five years ago, we added end-to-end encryption by default, which today protects over 100 billion messages a day as they travel between more than two billion users,” the firm said in a blog post.
“While end-to-end encrypted messages you send and receive are stored on your device, many people also want a way to back up their chats in case they lose their phone.
“Starting today, we are making available an extra, optional layer of security to protect back-ups stored on Google Drive or iCloud with end-to-end encryption.
“No other global messaging service at this scale provides this level of security for their users’ messages, media, voice messages, video calls, and chat back-ups.”
Facebook’s plans to gradually introduce end-to-end encryption across its suite of services – which also includes Instagram and Facebook Messenger – has been previously criticised by the Government, with Home Secretary Priti Patel warning it puts children at risk and offers a hiding place for abusers and other criminals.
In June, the Home Office said the Government was in favour of strong encryption to protect citizens from harm online but was concerned that Facebook’s implementation of the technology will blind law enforcement’s ability to access content.
When Facebook first previewed its encrypted back-up plans last month, WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart told The Verge the service “expect to get criticised by some for this”, but that he believes strongly that “governments should be pushing us to have more security and not do the opposite”.