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article imageWorld's leading tech companies plotting to strengthen encryption

By James Walker     Mar 14, 2016 in Technology
As Apple fights the FBI over an order to decrypt its own software, some of the world's largest technology firms are planning to increase the encryption applied to user data, according to a report today. The move will antagonize law enforcement worldwide.
The Guardian names Google, Facebook and WhatsApp as key firms looking to strengthen their security in a report today. Other online apps and services including Twitter and Snapchat are also evaluating how they can add more encryption to their core products.
The report claims Facebook will begin encrypting voice calls made with WhatsApp "within weeks." The company wants to increase the protection offered to its one billion monthly users, preventing hackers, law enforcement and governments from tapping into calls.
WhatsApp is already famed for the security it applies to instant messages, a feature that has brought it into the firing line of governments. On March 1, a Facebook executive was arrested in Brazil when WhatsApp refused to turn over the messages of drug traffickers using the service. WhatsApp claimed it is unable to access or decrypt messages between users.
The Guardian was unable to establish the details of Facebook's plans to increase security on its core social network. It is also unclear how Snapchat intends to build encryption into its app. According to the report, the popular ephemeral messaging platform, most popular with teenagers and young adults, is developing its own secure messaging system for a future launch.
The projects are said to have begun before the U.S. government's landmark ruling against Apple earlier this year. The Department of Justice ordered the company to help it hack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, a request Apple quickly declined and appealed.
CEO Tim Cook has likened the ruling to the "software equivalent of cancer," claiming that building a "backdoor" into iOS would be "bad for America" and impossible to control. The government has argued that the customized software would only be used for this case, a statement Apple disputes. It sees obliging with the demand as a dangerous precedent for the future of software development and a step backwards in user security.
Apple is also thought to be working to strengthen its encryption algorithms. Last month, a report claimed the company has accelerated plans to patch a key weakness in the way encryption is currently implemented on the iPhone 6 and 6s series.
The Secure Enclave, used to hold the device's encryption key, can have its software updated without requiring the user's password. This theoretically allows Apple or the U.S. government to flash new software to the Secure Enclave and retrieve a user's encryption key. Apple is said to be working to remove this possibility in the next version of iOS.
The work of the technology industry to strengthen encryption will provoke authorities worldwide at a time when the topic is particularly divisive. Opinion polls shown that there is no unanimous public view on the matter. People are being asked to balance having no data protection with having equal protection to dangerous criminals.
Governments currently have no control over how technology firms implement encryption, allowing manufacturers to push out new updates with stronger security for the foreseeable future. Tech companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Mozilla have united to back Apple's fight against the Department of Justice.
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