WhatsApp beta testing multi-device support: How will it adapt its infrastructure to ensure end-to-end encryption?

By: |
July 15, 2021 5:31 PM

In an interview last month, WhatsApp head Will Cathcart and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had highlighted the technical challenges they were facing in this regard.

Currently, WhatsApp is running beta testing of the feature with a limited number of users.

WhatsApp: WhatsApp has for long only offered WhatsApp Web as something remotely close to multi-device access, and even then, it requires users to have their phone powered on and connected to be able to work. However, now, a new beta test is being conducted by the Facebook-owned platform that is looking at supporting multiple devices without needing a phone in the mix. However, it is crucial for WhatsApp, which has been under fire regarding the safety of conversations and user data recently, to ensure that chats continue to remain end-to-end encrypted when bringing in this feature.

Also read | WhatsApp ‘view once’ disappearing photos and videos feature inching closer to launch for iPhone users

In an interview last month, WhatsApp head Will Cathcart and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had highlighted the technical challenges they were facing in this regard. And now, Cathcart has shared a blog post detailing more measures that the company is taking to ensure that the security is maintained.

Image: Facebook

As per images shared by Facebook explaining the message architecture at WhatsApp, the current infrastructure of WhatsApp Web relies heavily on the smartphone, which is why it needs to remain active. This is because any message sent by a user via WhatsApp Web is sent in an encrypted format to the user’s phone. From there the end-to-end encryption of the chat occurs and the message goes to the server and then to the receiver’s phone. This means that the key determining the identities of the sender and the receiver, the ability to encrypt and decrypt messages and message history, etc, lies with the user’s phone at the moment.

Now, the new system that WhatsApp is working on is attempting to shift this key management to all devices. As per the image, if a message is sent via a laptop, instead of one key sent out for the user’s phone to the smartphone, two keys would be sent out to the server directly – one for the user’s phone and the other for the receiver’s phone. The server would then send the message to the phones of the sender as well as the receiver with the respective keys. Evidently, this means WhatsApp is trying to shift the onus of encryption from the sender’s smartphone to the sending device while testing this feature.

However, shifting this onus to other devices is definitely not going to be an easy affair considering the changes required in the infrastructure, which is why at the moment the instant messaging app is running beta testing of the feature with a limited number of users already enrolled in its programme so that any issues can be ironed out before it is rolled out at a universal scale.

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