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WhatsApp is working on password-protected encrypted iCloud backups

Your WhatsApp chats saved in iCloud could be read and shared with authorities when lawfully requested. That might change soon as the Facebook-owned messaging service has been working on a new privacy feature that would protect these iCloud backups with encryption.


STORY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Encrypt backups with a password.
  • WhatsApp doesn’t store the encryption key.
  • No word on the release date.

An illustration with a WhatsApp logo in white set against a green background

Keeping your WhatsApp backups safe

To prevent unauthorized access to WhatsApp backups stored in iCloud, you will be permitted to set a password that will be used to encrypt future backups, WABeta Info reports. “This password will be required when you restore from the backup,” reads the prompt in the beta.

The app currently uses weak encryption to protect backups. With this new feature, WhatsApp won’t store an encryption key on its server. Because the backup encryption key stays private, your iCloud chats and media backed up in iCloud should be safe from unauthorized access.

That being said, it still remains unclear if the feature could stop law enforcement from gaining access to WhatsApp backups in iCloud. This was possible before with specialized forensic software tools, which can provide access to underlying messages in a readable form.

Are WhatsApp backups encrypted?

WhatsApp backups in iCloud are currently unencrypted.

As WABeta Info explains: the chat database is already encrypted now, but that doesn’t extend to your media. The algorithm is believed to be reversible because the backups are not end-to-end encrypted. This upcoming feature should plug that glaring security omission.

Currently, the security of the WhatsApp backups stored on Apple’s servers is provided by Apple. Apple encrypts some, but not all iCloud data, claiming this is to provide a way for customers to access their device backups in iCloud even after changing their Apple ID password.

There have been whispers that Apple might completely seal your iCloud data and make everything inaccessible without the password, but that hasn’t happened yet.

→ How to permanently delete your WhatsApp account

You can backup your WhatsApp chat archive to iCloud by tapping the Settings tab, then choose Chats → Chat Backup → Back Up Now. According to the feature’s description, “media and message you back up are not protected by WhatsApp end-to-end encryption while in iCloud.”

WhatsApp’s been testing other features that may or may not see the light of day, including self-vanishing photos. Recently, WhatsApp rolled out voice and video calling on desktop.

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