WhatsApp adds biometric feature to help protect messages

Even end-to-end encryption can’t protect WhatsApp users’ messages if someone has physical control of their device — a problem this update should help solve.
(Getty Images)

WhatsApp is adding new privacy features for many of its users, as the security community keeps a close eye on how its parent company, Facebook, plans to merge the globally popular messaging app with other products.

In a software update, WhatsApp allows iOS users to lock their messages with biometric authentication tools. The update, version 2.19.20, allows iPhone owners to unlock WhatsApp using Face ID or Touch ID. This layer of security applies to the entire app — rather than on a chat-by-chat basis — and can be enabled through iPhone’s settings page.

An Android version of the update is in a testing phase, according to the Verge.

By adding biometric authentication, WhatsApp is building on its already respected end-to-end encryption protocol. The methodology was developed by Open Whisper Systems, the software organization behind the widely-praised messaging app Signal. But even end-to-end encryption can’t protect users’ messages if someone has physical control of their device, a problem this update should help solve.


The change comes at a precarious time for the messaging app. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly plans to unify WhatsApp with Instagram and Facebook Messenger to help users more seamlessly communicate between his corporate properties. But neither of those services protect user’s communications as rigorously as WhatsApp and, while Zuckerberg reportedly has demanded all three be end-to-end encrypted, the details on how the company plans to make that happen are scant.

Jeff Stone

Written by Jeff Stone

Jeff Stone is the editor-in-chief of CyberScoop, with a special interest in cybercrime, disinformation and the U.S. justice system. He previously worked as an editor at the Wall Street Journal, and covered technology policy for sites including the Christian Science Monitor and the International Business Times.

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