End-to-end encryption boon for terror groups in India: Experts

New Delhi, May 25 :  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.

“So 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,” said Jan Koum, CEO and co-founder of WhatsApp, in a blog post.

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 as they connect.

“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,” warns Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts.

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. “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 The draft of the National Encryption Policy received massive protests and was withdrawn by the government in 2015,” Duggal told IANS.

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

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

In the ensuing debate over user privacy vs country’s security, experts give security a priority.

According to Rakshit Tandon, consultant at the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and a cyber security expert, “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,” he told IANS.

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