Facebook’s messaging service WhatsApp gets a security boost

November 18, 2014, 5:50 PM UTC
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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 19: The Facebook and WhatsApp app icons are displayed on an iPhone on February 19, 2014 in San Francisco City. Facebook Inc. announced that it will purchase smartphone-messaging app company WhatsApp Inc. for $19 billion in cash and stock. (Photo illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photo illustration by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

WhatsApp, the messaging app with 600 million users as of October 2014, is about to get a security boost. The technology, which was bought by Facebook for $19 billion in February, has partnered with Open Whisper Systems to bring end-to-end encryption to its messaging, according to a company blog post on Tuesday.

With end-to-end encryption, only the users chatting with one another will have access to the conversation and its data. WhatsApp won’t have the ability to give over that data if asked by law enforcement officials, as in the case of messages sent via Google’s (GOOG) Gmail and Facebook (FB).

The new feature will be a default setting for WhatsApp’s latest update for Android. An iOS update is expected to be on the way soon, too, according to The Verge.

The company has partnered with WhatsApp “for the past half year,” according to the announcement. It added, “We have a ways to go until all mobile platforms are fully supported, but we are moving quickly towards a world where all WhatsApp users will get end-to-end encryption by default.”

“We’re excited to incorporate what we’ve learned from this integration into our future design decisions, and to bring this experience to bear on integrations that we do with other companies and products in the future,” according to the post.

Open Whisper Systems boasts the mission of making “private communication simple.” It’s powered by Open Source contributors as well as a “small team of dedicated developers.” The company is the developer of TextSecure, an app that “encrypts your text and chat messages” for Android.

Open Whisper Systems says it’s been in the process of developing a “modern, open source, strong encryption protocol” for messaging services over the last three years.

Other encryption apps do exist currently, including Cryptochat, Silent Text and Telegram. The Verge reported that WhatsApp will be the largest to implement this type of security system for messaging applications.

A WhatsApp spokesperson confirmed the partnership via email and said “the company is not commenting beyond the Open Whisper Systems blog post.”

Facebook was not immediately able to be reached for comment.