WhatsApp is getting a ton of tweaks to make it more secure and easier to use, going by the changes spotted in the beta version of the messaging app by WABetaInfo (opens in new tab).
The first change is a rather minor one that simply allows you to add contacts to your WhatsApp list by scanning a QR code, potentially avoiding the pain of contacts not being properly pulled in from your phone’s contacts list. The second update is more significant as it adds end-to-end encryption to WhatsApp chat backups in Apple’s iCloud (opens in new tab).
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The QR code feature generates a code for one WhatsApp user, which can then be scanned using a smartphone camera by another user by tapping a ‘scan code’ option in the main app. It’s a small thing, but it could make adding contacts to WhatsApp even easier.
WhatsApp currently uses end-to-end encryption by default in its messaging, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that all actions performed by the Facebook-owned messaging service have that level of security. But they don’t.
Automatic chat backups to a supported cloud storage service of your choice is an excellent feature, as it allows you to easily swap phones while retaining your WhatsApp chats. But when this data is sent from WhatsApp to Apple’s iCloud services, which is baked into modern iPhones, the backup doesn’t get end-to-end encryption.
Theoretically, if someone was able to intercept the data flowing from WhatsApp on your iPhone to iCloud, they wouldn’t have to deal with the same security as they would if they tried to hack into WhatsApp chats directly. As such, every time your WhatsApp chats have been automatically updating on your iPhone, your chats could be exposed to so-called "man-in-the-middle" cyber attacks.
But with the beta update, end-to-end encryption will be applied to iCloud chat backups, making it very difficult to intercept and decrypt the data flowing between the WhatsApp app and iCloud servers. All you have to do now is wait for WhatsApp to automatically roll out the update when it’s ready for a full public release; we don’t know exactly when that will be, but WhatsApp usually pushes out updates quite rapidly after they enter the beta period.