[messaging] Second thoughts on WhatsApp encryption

Joseph Bonneau jbonneau at gmail.com
Thu Nov 27 06:53:12 PST 2014

On Thu, Nov 27, 2014 at 3:52 AM, Mike Hearn <mike at plan99.net> wrote:

> The events of recent days in the UK have made me see e2e crypto in a new
> light. Perhaps instead of seeing it as a technique to protect innocent
> users from malicious service providers, it can also be seen as a way to
> protect innocent service providers from malicious users.

I like this framing, though I prefer "protect innocent service providers
from malicious governments."

The best evidence I have seen for it is Kik Messenger. Check out the
user-facing page: http://kik.com/. There is no mention of security or
privacy whatsoever. Compare to this page for law enforcement agents:
http://kik.com/lawenforcement/. Here they start talking about how their
service is (purportedly) end-to-end encrypted so they can't really supply
much information if asked. Seems consistent with the explanation that
crypto is there to simplify their dealings with governments, not as a
selling point to users.

> Inverting the threat model neatly solves a few hard problems. For example,
> key verification UI is irrelevant now because the crypto isn't there to
> protect users. Whilst a company could still do the silent key switcharoo
> when served with a precisely targeted court order, they can't be told they
> should have reported some user who went on to do something bad just because
> the data happened to flow over their wires.

Interesting angle. Companies might want to take it a step further and argue
that they can't do the silent key switcharoo even faced with a court-order.
We're badly in need of some insight into how effective this claim actually
is in practice.
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