(BBC News) — Instant messaging service Whatsapp has announced it will encrypt all its users’ communications from Tuesday.
With end-to-end encryption, messages are scrambled as they leave the sender’s device and can only be decrypted by the recipient’s device.
It renders messages unreadable if they are intercepted, for example by criminals or law enforcement.
Whatsapp, which has a billion users worldwide, said file transfers and voice calls would be encrypted too.
The Facebook-owned company said protecting private communication was one of its “core beliefs”.
Encryption was thrown under the spotlight after the FBI asked Apple to help it access data on an iPhone used by California gunman Syed Farook.
Whatsapp said: “The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.”
Users with the latest version of the app were notified about the change when sending messages on Tuesday. The setting is enabled by default.
Amnesty International called the move a “huge victory” for free speech.
“Whatsapp’s roll out of the Signal Protocol, providing end to end encryption for its one billion users worldwide, is a major boost for people’s ability to express themselves and communicate without fear,” the organisation said in a statement.
“This is a huge victory for privacy and free speech, especially for activists and journalists who depend on strong and trustworthy communications to carry out their work without putting their lives at greater risk.”
Whatsapp’s decision was also welcomed by security professionals.
“Wire-tappers lament, law-abiding citizens rejoice, for WhatsApp’s latest update is a victory for communications privacy,” said Lee Munson, a security researcher for Comparitech.
“With the ability to access data removed even from the company behind the app, only ill-informed law enforcement agencies are likely to mutter ‘terrorists’ as the masses enjoy the encrypted text messages, photos, video and phone calls they’ve been demanding ever since Edward Snowden blew the lid on government surveillance.”
The move is likely to irk law enforcement agencies, particularly the US Department of Justice which has recently expressed concern over “unreachable” information contained in devices. The DoJ did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment on Tuesday.
Indeed, FBI attorney James Baker has reportedly criticised the move saying encryption threatens the work of law enforcement.
“It has public safety costs. Folks have to understand that, and figure out how they are going to deal with that,” he said, according to the US News and World Report news site.
“Do they want the public to bear those costs? Do they want the victims of terrorism to bear those costs?”
Mr Baker was speaking at the International Association of Privacy Professionals summit.
Other messaging apps with end-to-end encryption include Telegram, which is known to be used by the so-called Islamic State to share information.
Do you know who founded Israeli VIBER !???
Well his name is Talmon Marco ! Talmon served for four years in the Israel Defense Forces and held the position of CIO of the central command. He graduated Cum Laude from the Tel-Aviv University with a degree in Computer Science and Management.
Viber founder: ‘People should be concerned about privacy’
Talmon Marco discusses steps by free calls and messaging application to monetise service and why privacy matters
(The Guardian) — From strict privacy policies to its origins in Israel, there are a few things that distinguish Viber, the upstart free calls and messaging application, from its more established rival Skype. But the feature its 200 million international followers seem to appreciate most is the stickers.
A selection of images that can be texted as an alternative to written messages, the stickers available include love hearts, a red rose, the obligatory LOL, and the controversial middle finger hand gesture. There have been outraged calls for its removal.
Viber founder Talmon Marco is listening. “It will not be available by default with the next release of Viber,” he says.
Having begun life three years ago in the Israeli iPhone app store, before going international and onto other mobile platforms including Android, Blackberry and Windows, Viber took the fight to Skype’s home turf by launching a desktop version in May. Downloads onto personal computers are already in the millions.
Speaking from Singapore, Marco is busy preparing the next two important milestones. The first is a sticker store. While this may not sound momentous, it represents the company’s first foray into money making.
The app and all its current services, including calls between Viber users, will remain free. But in order to transform itself into a real business, Viber must search for revenues.
“We announced earlier this year that we will start monetising. The first thing we are going to announce is a sticker store, but we will be introducing additional paid services as early as this year.”
The second development, which is already being tested in Saudi Arabia, is technology that can stop Viber being blocked. During its rapid expansion, Viber has occasionally met resistance from both mobile networks and some of the more authoritarian states.
For some time, many Vodafone customers have been unable to use Viber without disruption, particularly those on pay-as-you-go tariffs, says Marco. Mobile operators have previously voiced concerns about free calls and messaging apps as a threat to their own revenues.
And there has been government opposition. Iran, Syria and Lebanon have all lifted previous blocks on Viber, but the service was recently barred by the Saudi Arabian authorities. Marco says the ban was introduced after Saudi officials indicated to Skype, Viber and the popular messaging service Whatsapp that they would be blocked if they did not agree to be monitored.
Social networks have allowed unprecedented freedom to communicate in Saudi Arabia, propelling a steep adoption curve. They are also relied on by the nation’s many foreign workers as a cheap way to keep in touch with families abroad.
“A few days ago we launched a test of Viber with enhanced connectivity,” says Marco. “This version allows users to connect in places where Viber is blocked. At present we have several thousand users in Saudi Arabia that can access Viber despite the local ban. Once the technology is rolled out, we will likely roll it out to Vodafone UK users as well.”
Marco says he is serious about the right to communicate, and the ability to do so in privacy. Viber’s policy is that if it receives a proper subpoena, it will provide records of who made and received calls, and when, but that no content from those conversations will be shared.
He says Viber does not “have the capability to listen to conversations”. Messages are stored, for two weeks or until they are opened by the recipient, whichever is shorter. Around 80% are deleted in less than a second. The messages are encrypted, and Marco says he has never handed the encryption key to any government.
“We have been asked if we would co-operate. We never provided anybody with anything that will let them listen to conversations or messages on Viber. I do believe people should take notice of the fact that the Saudi government has threatened three companies with shutdown of service – us, Skype and Whatsapp. Only one company was shut down. Users should ask themselves why the other companies were not shut down.”
In fact, Marco has himself been accused by at least one blogger of being an agent of the Israeli state. The rather sketchy claims are based on his military career. He spent four years in the Israel Defence Forces, rising to chief information officer of the central command.
But Viber was funded entirely by what Marco refers to as “friends and family”. “We never took a single dollar from the state of Israel, we are not even incorporated in Israel. We maintain a research and development centre in Israel and that’s it.”
For now, Viber is growing quickly. With just 120 staff, based in Cyprus and Belarus as well as Marco’s homeland, the app is being downloaded by more than 500,000 people a day and reached 200m downloads in May. Last time Viber released information on usage, in February, it was carrying 3bn minutes of calls and 12bn text messages every month. It has some way to go to catch up with Skype – which in April announced 2bn calls a day.
But on the mobile phone, if the iPhone app store reviews are to be believed, Viber is better liked. Skype’s transition to mobile has been rocky, with users complaining the service crashes. Most give Skype a one-star rating on iPhone, while Viber receives the maximum of five stars from most of its reviewers.
Time will tell whether revelations by the Guardian and other media about the extent of Skype’s cooperation with intelligence agencies will harm its business. But Marco believes individuals should care.
“Personally, I would be concerned being on a service knowing that everybody can listen to my conversations,” he says. “People should be concerned about their privacy.”
Morocco banned Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It didn’t go down well
(Middle East Eye) — Moroccans and expatriates have taken their fury against the blocking of voice over IP (VoIP) calls to social networks, and have called for the boycott of the North African country’s telecommunication operators that implemented the ban.
There are now growing calls for Moroccan king’s intervention to put pressure on the firms to restore internet call services.
Maroc Telecom, Meditel and Inwi, the three telecommunication service providers in Morocco, welcomed the New Year of 2016 with the ban of free mobile internet calls made through mobile phone connections.
Skype, Viber, Tango, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are among the applications whose VoIP calls have been blocked by telecom operators on 3G, and 4G connections in January and ADSL connections in February.
Morocco’s Telecommunications Regulatory National Agency (ANRT), which was behind the ban, justified its decision by stating that none of the services providing voice over IP (VoIP) or other “free internet calls” had the required licenses.
However, ANRT’s move was seen as a move to boost operators’ revenues from international calls.
Protests on social networks
The ban has led thousands of Moroccans to take part in a merciless campaign on social networks to protest against it while online petitions call for the restoration of VoIP services.
The three telecom operators have lost more than 100,000 “like” mentions within 48 hours of the launch of #OPEUnlike campaign by Marouane Lamharzi Alaoui on Facebook.
Alaoui created a webpage that allows the tracking in real time of the number of people who have unsubscribed from Facebook pages of the three operators. However, the impact of #OPEUnlike campaign will be difficult to quantify since the telecom firms may at any time buy “likes” to downplay the recent losses.
The losses of “likes” may seem to be trivial in the virtual world, but are huge in terms of corporate image and social responsibility towards its unhappy customers who have flooded telecom operators’ pages with negative comments.
The most common message forwarded on operators’ official Facebook pages is calling on all Moroccans to withdraw their “likes” until they bring them down from millions to thousands in response to banning VoIP calls.
ANRT ‘exceeded its powers’
For some, the ban is illegal, arguing that ANRT has within its powers the ability to “propose” laws, but not to enact them.
“In its 2004 decision subjecting VoIP to a prior license, ANRT wanted to apply a legal regime and therefore exceeded its powers. The decision can be challenged before the administrative court of Rabat by filing for an annulment for abuse of power,” wrote Alaoui.
On its website, ANRT states it is in charge of the contribution to the proposal of the legal framework governing the telecommunications sector through the preparation of draft laws, decrees and ministerial orders. The agency is also in charge of conducting and implementing procedures of allocation and instruction of licences through competitive bidding.
ANRT points out that, in reference to Article 1 of Decision ANRT / DG / No. 04-04 on the status of IP telephony, commercial exploitation of the IP telephony service and the traffic carriage for a third party can only be done by telecom licensed operators.
It underlines that any commercial exploitation is prohibited and punishable in accordance with article 83 of Law 24-96 on post and telecommunications.
Telecom expert Alaa-eddine Kaddouri, told Atlantic Radio that VoIP providers do not commercially exploit phone lines which are already established.
“When you browse the internet and watch videos online, you do it through an already paid phone line. So the commercial exploitation is done by the telecom provider,” he said, explaining that the justification of commercial exploitation by VoIP providers is void because Skype and other applications are not paid for internet calls.
Boycott of Inwi-sponsored Maroc Web Awards
Moroccans did not limit themselves to online protests. Some people went farther by boycotting the famous “Morocco Web Awards”, organised by Inwi.
Last week, organisers of Maroc Web Awards (MWA) announced that Inwi, the event’s main sponsor and official partner, will not sponsor its ninth edition.
The telecom operator’s decision came a few days after the withdrawal of a number of candidates for MWA to protest against the blocking of VoIP.
Marocopédia, finalist in the “Annual Web application” category, withdrew from the competition of the ninth Morocco Web Awards.
“The basic foundation of Marocopédia is the creation of a network for sharing and communication around Moroccan culture. Marocopédia and its members use VoIP for their work, and especially to communicate with socio-cultural actors in Morocco and with Moroccans living abroad,” explained Marocopédia which called the VoIP ban censorship.
“Our decision is directed against the official sponsor, one of the telephone operators which also has a stranglehold on the prohibition of VoIP,” added the solidarity encyclopaedia.
Some candidates and members of the jury also announced their withdrawal from the event.
A few minutes after the announcement of the withdrawal of Inwi, internet users proposed to launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund the event and welcomed MWA sponsor’s decision to hold the event without its official partner. Some of them even called on withdrawn candidates to return to the competition in order to support the event’s organising committee.
Calls for King Mohammed VI to intervene
Many children of expatriates living in Morocco and Moroccans living abroad made emotional appeals to King Mohammed VI to restore VoIP calls so that they can communicate with their relatives abroad and in the North African kingdom respectively. Their letters are still being uploaded on “Stop the VOIP ban in Morocco” on Facebook.
Petitions have also been launched on the internet, including a letter of protest to the ANRT president, which has already gathered almost 10,000 signatures.
While petitions, appeals and boycotts are the only weapons to fight the VoIP ban, Moroccans’ patience might run out sooner or later in the face of a profit-driven oligopoly backed by ANRT.
A million-dollar question remains: will the king intervene to lift the ban?