WhatsApp Chat Leak: WhatsApp claims that WhatsApp chats are end-to-end encrypted, meaning that no one other than the sender and receiver can read the message, not even WhatsApp. So despite such stringent rules, why is it that every time a Bollywood scandal happens, the WhatsApp chat of the person involved gets leaked and accessed? Recently, there have been many cases of leaked WhatsApp chats of Bollywood celebrities.
In 2020, WhatsApp chats related to actress Rhea Chakraborty went viral everywhere on the internet. Then we saw that Deepika Padukone was going to the NCB office after a conversation with an alleged drug dealer. The latest case involves Bollywood actress Ananya Pandey, who was called by the NCB before the authorities over an alleged chat with Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan.
All these incidents raise a question that are WhatsApp messages really end-to-end encrypted? And how are chats leaked or accessed by others? We try to explain.
Is WhatsApp really end-to-end encrypted?
WhatsApp has always ensured that all its messages are end-to-end encrypted. Messages can only be read by the sender and receiver and no third person can gain access to them, not even WhatsApp and Facebook. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption uses a Signal protocol that prevents third parties and WhatsApp from accessing messages or calls.
According to media reports, WhatsApp has no ability to view the contents of messages or listen to calls that are end-to-end encrypted. This is because the encryption and decryption of messages sent and received on WhatsApp happens entirely on your device. Before a message leaves your device, it is protected with a cryptographic lock, and only the receiver has the keys. In addition, the keys change with each message that is sent. While this all happens behind the scenes, you can confirm that your conversations are secure by checking the security verification code on your device,” states WhatsApp’s frequently asked questions page.
How can WhatsApp chat be accessed despite end-to-end encryption?
It is almost impossible to break into end-to-end encrypted data. So the big question is how do WhatsApp chats get leaked? In most cases the reality is that data is not broken but it is accessed. This access simply happens with: “Unlock your phone and give it to me.” In India, the law on access to personal devices such as smartphones is unclear. In the US or many European countries, a warrant is required before police can seize and search phones and computers.
These reasons can also be:-
- The phone is physically accessed and the user is asked to unlock it. Once unlocked, all chats are accessible. Screenshots can be taken, they can be copied, they can be shared.
- The phone is physically accessed but not unlocked. In such a situation, the forensic team can do something of its own. WhatsApp chats are encrypted but until a few weeks ago, the chat backup that WhatsApp was creating on Google Drive or iCloud was not encrypted. These chat backups can be accessed using certain tools.
- For example, once someone has a phone, their data can be cloned onto a computer and then accessed using forensic tools.
- Also, law enforcement agencies have the option of contacting Google and Apple with a valid court order and obtaining WhatsApp chat backups (unencrypted until recently). These backups could then be isolated in a forensic lab.
- Even now that chat backup can be encrypted, the option has to be enabled by the user. So, unless you explicitly ask WhatsApp to encrypt your chat backups, they will remain in unencrypted form.
Can WhatsApp share data with law enforcement officers?
Law enforcement officers can contact WhatsApp to share user account records in emergency situations. “About” information for any account’s Stored Content may include profile photos, group information, and the address book, if available. Once a request is made, WhatsApp carefully reviews, validates and responds to law enforcement requests based on applicable law and policy.
However, nowhere in WhatsApp’s FAQ page does it say that the messaging app shares message content with law enforcement officials. This is because WhatsApp does not store the transaction log of the message or such delivered message after it has been delivered. Undelivered messages are deleted from WhatsApp servers after 30 days. End-to-end encryption, which is activated by default, does not allow WhatsApp to access the chats of its users.
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