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

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End-To-End Encryption

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 The draft of the National Encryption Policy received massive protests and was withdrawn by the government in 2015,” Duggal told.

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.

“I will not call it hacking as is being said in the FBI-Apple case but getting the essential information out to nab the criminal and save the country from any possible terror attack,” said Tandon, who is also advisor to the Cyber Complaint Redressal Cell (UP Police Agra).

“We need better technology but not something that helps terror organisations in the long run,” added Tandon.

Lucknow-based social media analyst Anoop Mishra fears that if we can use it as a major tool for day-to-day communications, the tool can also be used by skilled terrorists or sleeper cells to plan their activities in a more secure and encrypted way.

“This is going to pose more challenges for the national security agencies, especially in countries like India, where terrorism is active in form of sleeper cells and where cyber security policies are less effective and poorly implemented,” Mishra told.

Krishna Mukherjee, analyst (telecoms) at market research firm CyberMedia Research (CMR), also feels that end-to-end encryption is a blessing in disguise for terrorists.

“Encryption means maintaining privacy for users but on the other hand, the law enforcement agencies will have a hard time in accessing critical information when dealing with terrorists. Therefore, the need of the hour is to bring some regulations with respect to this,” Mukherjee told.

According to the experts, technology companies and the Indian government should join hands in zeroing in on the criminal outfits to help safeguard the national interest.

“The collaboration between the two parties will help in maintaining privacy of users and in securing them too. Although encryption is welcome, it should come with some riders,” she adds.

There are no golden principles or formulas and everything will depend upon the peculiar, specific approach to be adopted by state actors as they move ahead.

“End-to-end encryption is now a ground reality. The fact remains how sovereign states try to come up with legal mechanisms and processes to deal with this,” asserts Duggal, also a Supreme Court advocate.

“As such, India will need to come up with its own customised approach on how to deal with this,” Duggal said.

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CAIT moves SC against WhatsApp, Facebook

The CAIT will not allow any corporate or conglomerate to enforce its ‘obnoxious policies and sinister designs’ to make profit in an unethical manner by firing from the shoulder of the people of India, added its petition.

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WhatsApp

New Delhi, Jan 16 : The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) on Saturday filed a petition in the Supreme Court with the prayer to direct WhatsApp to withdraw its new privacy policy which is encroaching upon various fundamental rights of the citizens granted by the Constitution of India.

CAIT has also prayed that the Union of India must frame guidelines to govern big technology companies like WhatsApp and frame policies which would protect the privacy of citizens and businesses.

The petition especially highlights the difference of approach in EU and India countries with respect to the privacy policy of WhatsApp and how the data of Indian users can be misused by such big tech companies. The petition has been drafted by Advocate Abir Roy and settled and filed in Supreme Court by Advocate on Record Vivek Narayan Sharma.

CAIT National President B.C. Bhartia and Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal charged that WhatsApp has adopted the approach of ‘my way or high way’ which is arbitrary, unjustified, unconstitutional and cannot be accepted in a democratic country like India. WhatsApp has been fraudulently collecting personal user data.

At the time of its launch, WhatsApp attracted users based on the promise of non-sharing of user data and strong privacy principles. In 2014, after the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook, when the users had started doubting the privacy of their data and were in fear that their personal data will be shared with Facebook, WhatsApp promised that nothing would change in the privacy policy after the acquisition. However, in August 2016, WhatsApp retracted from its promise and introduced a new Privacy Policy which severely compromised the rights of its users and made the privacy rights of users completely vulnerable, CAIT said.

Under the new privacy policy, it allowed the sharing of personal data with Facebook and all its group companies for commercial advertising and marketing. Since then, the company has been altering its policies to collect and process a wider range of information, and share the same with the third party applications.

The CAIT will not allow any corporate or conglomerate to enforce its ‘obnoxious policies and sinister designs’ to make profit in an unethical manner by firing from the shoulder of the people of India, added its petition.

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Mobile numbers of WhatsApp on Web users found on Google Search

According to Rajaharia, the latest leak of personal mobile numbers via WhatsApp on Web has not been addressed so far by the either Facebook-owned platform or Google.

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New Delhi, Jan 16 : As WhatsApp faces intense scrutiny over its upcoming data and privacy policy in India and elsewhere, another user data violation has been reported, this time on the WhatsApp on Desktop (Web) application, allegedly exposing personal mobile numbers via indexing on Google Search.

Although WhatsApp is primarily a mobile app, currently being used by over 400 million users in India, some working professionals also use the instant chat app on their desktops and PCs via the Web version.

Independent cybersecurity researcher Rajshekhar Rajaharia on Friday shared some screenshots with IANS showing indexing of personal mobile numbers of WhatsApp users via Web version on Google Search.

“The leak is happening via WhatsApp on Web. If someone is using WhatsApp on laptop or on an office PC, the mobile numbers are being indexed on Google Search. These are mobile numbers of individual users not business numbers,” Rajaharia told IANS.

Earlier this week, concerned at private group chat links being available on Google Search, WhatsApp said that it had asked Google not to index such chats and advised users not to share group chat links on publicly accessible websites.

Google had indexed invite links to private WhatsApp group chats, meaning anyone can join various private chat groups with a simple search. The indexed WhatsApp group chat links have now been removed from Google.

“Despite WhatsApp advising users and telling Google to remove the earlier exposed group chat links, the mobile numbers via WhatsApp Web application are now being indexed on Google Search,” Rajaharia noted.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said in an earlier statement that since March 2020, WhatsApp has included the “noindex” tag on all deep link pages which, according to Google, will exclude them from indexing.

“We have given our feedback to Google to not index these chats. Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website,” the company spokesperson said.

The issue was first cropped up in February last year when app reverse-engineer Jane Wong found that Google has around 470,000 results for a simple search of “chat.whatsapp.com”, part of the URL that makes up invites to WhatsApp groups.

According to Rajaharia, the latest leak of personal mobile numbers via WhatsApp on Web has not been addressed so far by the either Facebook-owned platform or Google.

The revelation comes at a time when WhatsApp is changing its privacy policy and users will have to “agree and accept” if they plan to keep using the app post-February 8.

On Friday, a single judge bench of the Delhi High Court recused from hearing a petition against the WhatsApp’s upcoming data and privacy policy, on the grounds that it violates the right to privacy of citizens of India.

The plea will now be listed before another bench and would come up for hearing on January 18.

–IANS

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Twitter CEO says banning Trump was right decision but sets dangerous precedent

Dorsey has said he believes those measures can promote more fruitful, or “healthy,” conversations online and lessen the impact of bad behavior.

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Jack Dorsey Twitter CEO

Twitter Inc Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday that banning President Donald Trump from its social media platform after last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol was the “right decision,” but said it sets a dangerous precedent.

San Francisco-based Twitter last week removed Trump’s account, which had 88 million followers, citing the risk of further violence following the storming of the Capitol by supporters of the president.

“Having to take these actions fragment the public conversation,” Dorsey said on Twitter.

“They divide us. They limit the potential for clarification, redemption, and learning. And sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”

The ban drew criticism from some Republicans who said it quelled the president’s right to free speech. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also warned through a spokesman that legislators, not private companies, should decide on potential curbs to free expression.

In his Twitter thread, Dorsey said that while he took no pride in the ban, “Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all.”

Even so, he added, “While there are clear and obvious exceptions, I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation.”

Twitter has introduced a series of measures over the last year like labels, warnings and distribution restrictions to reduce the need for decisions about removing content entirely from the service.

Dorsey has said he believes those measures can promote more fruitful, or “healthy,” conversations online and lessen the impact of bad behavior.

The Twitter CEO added that bans by social media companies on Trump after last week’s violence were emboldened by each other’s actions even though they were not coordinated. But in the long term, the precedent set “will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet,” he said.

Supporters of Trump who has repeatedly made baseless claims challenging Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November election, stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, trying to halt the certification by Congress of Biden’s Electoral College win.

On Wednesday, Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.

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