What is Hashing & Why Does Indian Govt Want WhatsApp to Use It?
Hashing is a process where a piece of data is masked with a fixed value so that it can be easily traced when needed.
The Indian government wants WhatsApp to implement traceability in its services.
Messaging platform WhatsApp is worried that it might go against its end-to-end encryption stance that pledges to never read or store messages on their servers, resulting in a stalemate between the company and government.
“The government is willing to work with WhatsApp to come up with a solution to enable traceability of message originators without breaking encryption,” a senior government official told The Economic Times.
In a bid to resolve the deadlock, Indian government has proposed to assign alphanumeric hashes to WhatsApp messages. This will reportedly allow the Facebook-owned platform to comply with the country’s newly proposed IT rules as well as track the first original sender of messages, if needed.
So What Is Hashing?
Hashing is a process of solving a problem efficiently by listing them in order. It is a process where a piece of data is masked with a fixed value so that it can be easily traced when needed.
This methodology is used for several purposes including password verification, breaking compression, and data structures as well.
How Will This Methodology Help the Govt?
Indian government has suggested assigning ‘alphanumeric hashes’ to every message sent using WhatsApp.
According to a report by The Economic Times, the government wants WhatsApp to maintain a catalogue of each and every message sent on its platform.
Each message sent on WhatsApp will produce a unique hash key containing letters from A-Z and numbers 0-9. For example if you send a ‘Hi’ on WhatsApp this might be stored as ‘97oagh’.
All these hash keys will be maintained by WhatsApp, and when a law enforcement agency wants to investigate a problematic message all it has to do is to request WhatsApp for the hash of the original sender.
Sharing his thoughts on hashing, cyber security expert Rajshekhar Rajaharia told The Quint,“It will add a unique ID to each message. In simple words it will serialise each message and with the serial number the government may identify the original sender and well as all the forwarders. There might be a chain system which may create a route of forwarded messages”.
“So if an enforcement agency asks any details about a forward or a WhatsApp text message. The company will be able to identify phone numbers and complete chain of forwarded messages using hash methodology. In this case messages will still remain encrypted but the original sender might be identified,” he added.
Is This A Viable Move?
WhatsApp has not yet released any official confirmation about accepting this offer from the Indian government.
According to a report by Forbes India, accuracy is also a constraint when it comes to implementation of hashing methodology.
Meanwhile, WhatsApp CEO, Will Cathcart in an interview said that the company is strongly opposing the move. “We’ve been pretty opposed to it… We’ve been consistently opposed to it. There’s actually been an ongoing conversation in India and Brazil and some other places,” he said.
Rajaharia said that WhatsApp might disagree with this move. “They have to make major changes in their system and programming which might impact their global system,” he added.
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