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WhatsApp rolls out end-to-end encryption for backups, here’s how you can enable it

Adding to its privacy credentials, WhatsApp is rolling out end-to-end encryption for backups stored on Google Drive or iCloud.

“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 backups stored on Google Drive or iCloud with end-to-end encryption,” WhatsApp announced last week.

Messages, calls, and media shared on WhatsApp have been end-to-end encrypted since 2016, but backups weren’t. This left scope for law enforcement authorities to access messages by issuing legal orders asking Google or Apple to turn over backups.

How to enable end-to-end encryption for backups?

According to WhatsApp FAQs, this is what you do to turn on end-to-end encryption:

  1. Go to Settings on the WhatsApp app
  2. Select Chats > Chat Backup > End-to-end Encrypted Backup
  3. Tap turn on and follow prompts to create a password or key

Note that WhatsApp is slowly rolling out this feature to those with the latest version of the app, so you might not see it just yet.

How backup encryption works

WhatsApp will generate a random 64 digit key for encrypting backups. As Facebook explains it:

People can choose to secure the key manually or with a user password. When someone opts for a password, the key is stored in a Backup Key Vault that is built based on a component called a hardware security module (HSM) — specialized, secure hardware that can be used to securely store encryption keys. When the account owner needs access to their backup, they can access it with their encryption key, or they can use their personal password to retrieve their encryption key from the HSM-based Backup Key Vault and decrypt their backup. — Facebook Engineering Blog

“Neither WhatsApp nor your backup service provider will be able to read your backups or access the key required to unlock it,” the company said.

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For more information on how this works, read here.

WhatsApp’s legal battle against India’s IT Rules

This feature update comes at a time when WhatsApp is battling the Indian government in court. According to the Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021, which went into effect on May 26, messaging platforms like WhatsApp need to enable the tracing of the originator of a message if served a valid order. WhatsApp has filed a petition against the government over this mandate, arguing that it will require the platform to break end-to-end encryption for all its users, which will violate the users’ right to privacy and freedom of speech and expression. The next hearing on this case has been scheduled for October 22, 2021.

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