Whatsapp’s End-to-End Encryption Will Help Terror Groups: Experts
WhatsApp is a popular messaging app. (Photo: iStockphoto)
WhatsApp is a popular messaging app. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Whatsapp’s End-to-End Encryption Will Help Terror Groups: Experts

When Facebook-owned mobile messaging service WhatsApp announced to turn on end-to-end encryption for its over one billion monthly active users last month, CEO Mark Zuckerberg hailed this as an “important milestone for the WhatsApp community.”

It means that for WhatsApp users, every call they make and every message, photo, video, file and voice message they send, will be end-to-end encrypted by default, allowing users to protect their conversations from being hacked.

Will Boost Communication For Terror Groups: Indian Cyber Security Experts

The move, coming after the FBI-Apple tussle over unlocking an iPhone used by a terrorist, has not gone well with cyber security experts in India.

According to them, this may be a boon for terror groups operating in India and across the border as this ensures that their communications cannot be intercepted.

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption provides more encouragement to terror groups to be more bold in their communications in coded languages which can then be transmitted without the fear of being cracked on the way.
Pavan Duggal, Cyber Law Expert.

In a country where WhatsApp has become somewhat of a de-facto religion for the Indian smartphone users, end-to-end encryption will hamper the Indian government’s plan to counter terrorism.

Duggal further said:

Given the fact that WhatsApp does not have an office in India, it further complicates the scenario. The Indian approach on encryption is also not clear. The draft of the National Encryption Policy received massive protests and was withdrawn by the government in 2015.

Experts feel that end-to-end encryption will boost cyber radicalisation to a great extent. Recently, the Islamic State (ISIS) released a technology guide ranking the security of more than 30 chat apps, including WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal.

Reports indicate that the heavily encrypted Telegram app, built by a Russian developer, is currently hot among ISIS supporters, but with WhatsApp starting end-to-end encryption, experts fear that ISIS militants – who plotted the Paris attacks using WhatsApp and other encrypted apps – may shift base back on to the popular platform.

User Privacy Vs Country’s Security: What Do Experts Feel?

If a smartphone or any other device or messaging app has been used against the country, law enforcement agencies have all the right to get the information out.
Rakshit Tandon, Cyber Security Expert

Tandon, who is also an advisor to the Cyber Complaint Redressal Cell (UP Police Agra), feels that it would not be hacking, as in the case of the FBI-Apple case, but getting the essential information out to nab the criminal and save the country from any possible terror attack.

Lucknow-based social media analyst Anoop Mishra fears that if we can use it as a major tool for day-to-day communications, the tool can also be used by skilled terrorists or sleeper cells to plan their activities in a more secure and encrypted way.

This is going to pose more challenges for the national security agencies, especially in countries like India, where terrorism is active in form of sleeper cells and where cyber security policies are less effective and poorly implemented.
Anoop Mishra, Social Media Analyst.

Krishna Mukherjee, an analyst at market research firm CyberMedia Research (CMR), also feels that end-to-end encryption is a blessing in disguise for terrorists, and this could mean that enforcement agencies would have a harder time when dealing with terrorists. He says:

The need of the hour is to bring some regulations with respect to this.

A New Approach

According to the experts, technology companies and the Indian government should join hands in zeroing in on the criminal outfits to help safeguard national interest.

Although encryption is welcome, it should come with some riders.
Krishna Mukherjee

There are no golden principles or formulas and everything will depend upon the peculiar, specific approach to be adopted by state actors as they move ahead.

Pavan Duggal, also a Supreme Court advocate, feels that encryption is now a ground-reality, and the question is what legal mechanisms will sovereign states come up with to tackle this.

As such, India will need to come up with its own customised approach on how to deal with this.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in. This article was published in special arrangement with IANS.)

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