Cloud encrypted backups are being released for WhatsApp users: they're an important new feature, but one to be handled with extreme care
Unannounced last month, WhatsApp's encrypted backups are starting to gradually arrive to the more than two billion users of the world's most popular chat platform. This was announced by Mark Zuckerberg himself, via his Facebook profile, "End-to-end encrypted backups for WhatsApp start rolling out today. I'm proud of the team for continuing to increase security for your private conversations."
The new feature will be released little by little, because unlike what you might think, it's one of those big, complex features that must be managed carefully otherwise it risks creating more harm than good for WhatsApp users. Encrypted backups, moreover, are also a big challenge for Google and Apple and may have heavy implications for the Facebook group from a "political" point of view. In short, this is by no means a minor innovation from a technical point of view, in the style of voice 2X, but a feature to be handled with care. Even by users.
What are WhatsApp encrypted backups
Already today anyone with a WhatsApp profile can backup all chats, including videos and photos, and upload it to Google Drive or Apple iCloud. Doing it regularly is very useful, because it allows us to save all the data and not lose them in case of theft or loss of the phone. But that's not all: thanks to cloud backup, you can easily switch phones and recover all your chat history via the last backup.
Unlike chats saved on your phone, however, cloud backup is currently not encrypted with end-to-end encryption. This means that those who have access to the backup files can read our chats and see photos and videos we've exchanged with our contacts.
Google Drive introduced the ability to encrypt individual files last year, with a very robust 256-bit algorithm, but it's an option that has to be activated by hand and the file to be encrypted can't exceed 100 MB in size (versus the several GB that a WhatsApp backup can weigh).
Apple's iCloud, on the other hand, has more advanced encryption, but as far as stored files are concerned, including those of the WhatsApp backup, it's not end-to-end encryption. This means that Apple can decrypt the files, for example if it is forced to do so by the Police or a judge.
How to make encrypted backup on WhatsApp
It is clear, therefore, that currently WhatsApp backup is much less secure than conversations stored on the phone (which are instead all encrypted end-to-end). But it is equally clear that applying the most secure encryption to WhatsApp backup is no small feat, even from a political point of view: if the police or a judge want to read our chats, in fact, after having ascertained that Google and Apple can not decrypt them they will go knocking on WhatsApp's door.
To activate encrypted backup on WhatsApp you follow the same procedure as the classic cloud backup: Settings > Chats > Chat backup > End-to-end encrypted backup > Continue. At this point WhatsApp will ask us to enter a password or a 64-character encryption key and we, after doing so, will have to tap on "Finish".
If you don't see the option for end-to-end encryption, then it means that we have to wait: the feature has not yet arrived on our profile.
If we want to disable encryption of the backup, instead, we will have to go the same way and tap on "Disable", then enter the key or password and confirm.
Encrypted WhatsApp backup: be careful with your password
As you may have already guessed, the password or key is the core of data security in this system: you must not lose it and you must create a very strong one, with upper and lower case letters, numbers, special characters.
The problem, however, will be remembering it: if we lose it, in fact, no one will be able to help us recover it since not even WhatsApp can read the encryption key, nor the data of encrypted backups.