With tens of millions of WhatApp users switching to Telegram and Signal – many are using these apps for the first time – there are serious security issues to avoid. And now there is a new threat to the security of your WhatsApp messages. It’s a seemingly useful setting, but with serious hidden risk. Here’s what you need to know.
WhatsApp’s battle is ongoing – it tries to stem the tide of users switching to Telegram and Signal. However, users need to understand the risks before they move. Signal and telegram are not the same. And this has gotten much more serious now, with a new move from Telegram that could put WhatsApp users at risk.
Earlier this month, alarming headlines and viral social media posts warned WhatsApp users that Facebook was refreshing their data. WhatsApp’s initial PR was sad. By the time messaging was captured, 50 million users had installed Signal for the first time, with twice as many opting for the larger Telegram.
The crisis is now threatening to turn into a catastrophe. The real threat to WhatsApp is that Signal and Telegram are becoming real alternatives. Yes, Telegram already had a sizeable user base, but its new installations draw on WhatsApp’s core, displacing it from its alternative audiences of the past. When building up the signal and telegram, there is a risk that the network effect will accelerate this “digital migration” from WhatsApp.
Both Signal and Telegram send out provocative privacy-based marketing messages in line with anti-Facebook sentiment. They also release features and updates to fill in gaps in their offerings. Ultimately, however, the trick is to make the transition as easy as possible and to help new users bring their contacts with them.
One function that both telegrams and signals offer are “group connections”. Users can create replica groups for those they have on WhatsApp and then send the WhatsApp group a message with a link to join the new group, install Telegram or Signal if they are not already on board.
Now Telegram is going one step further and making it easier to import exported WhatsApp chat histories onto its platform. It’s now so easy to “Export Chat” in WhatsApp and then select “Telegram” as the destination. All messages and (optional) media are copied and deliver the entire process in Telegram.
“Starting today,” Telegram told its users this week, “anyone can bring their chat history – including videos and documents – to Telegram … The best part is that the messages and media you move don’t take up any extra space have to.” Older apps let you save all of the data on your device. However, Telegram can practically take up no storage space while you can access all your messages, photos and videos at any time. “This is not the” best part “of anything. It is a serious risk that you need to understand.
In contrast to WhatsApp and Signal, Telegram is a cloud-based platform. With the exception of the niche chats, which have to be set up manually and only work between two people on one device at a time, all of your messages are stored in Telegram’s cloud. This means that you can access these messages from as many devices as you want. If you lose a device, you won’t lose any of your content.
But it also means that your messages are in the telegram Not Encrypted end-to-end. This is a key difference to WhatsApp and Signal, which both offer this security. Telegram encrypts messages between your device and its cloud and between its cloud and your contacts. However, the telegram contains the key for this encryption. And while there are guidelines for securing these keys, it is nowhere near end-to-end encryption where you and your contacts can access content, but the platforms cannot.
The security risk with end-to-end encryption lies with your device. This is known as an endpoint tradeoff. While messages cannot be intercepted in transit, once received and decrypted by a device, they can be intercepted by a physical or digital attack on that device. It is the biometric or passcode security on your device that keeps these decrypted messages safe. But as Telegram itself says, “We can’t protect you from your own mother if she takes your unlocked phone without a passcode.”
The same problem affects the cloud. When you back up WhatsApp to the Apple or Google cloud, it is a copy of the decrypted chat history on your device. Apple and Google have the keys to your backup – it’s outside WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption. Telegram founder Pavel Durov argued This makes “WhatsApp dangerous … users don’t want to lose their chats when they switch devices and back up the chats on services like iCloud – often without realizing that their backups aren’t encrypted.”
Telegram argues that its cloud is more secure than Apple or Google. “This is one of the reasons Telegram never relies on third-party cloud backups,” says Durov. But he also points out that “secret chats are never saved anywhere” because they are encrypted throughout. However, when you export a WhatsApp chat history to Telegram’s cloud, you are doing exactly what Durov ensures Not happen with Telegram’s own end-to-end encrypted chats. This is a dangerous contradiction. Why should you offer to make your end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp chats less secure than Telegram’s (limited) equivalents?
Signal does not offer any form of cloud security, especially because it makes end-to-end encryption pointless. The iMessage from Apple now offers the cleverest option of all: It extends end-to-end encryption to your “messages in the cloud”. WhatsApp offers these backups, but for security reasons this option should be disabled in your settings – although if you lose your device you will lose your chat history.
And so should you Not Export your WhatsApp chat histories to a third party cloud, including Telegrams, without understanding that in the process you are removing the security that is currently protecting your content. If you argue that WhatsApp isn’t a secure repository for your messages, Telegram shouldn’t suggest that you make this content even less secure without going into detail about the differences.
If you are switching from WhatsApp, please take the time to understand the differences between the alternatives. Your best solution is to keep WhatsApp while other options run in parallel, decide what works best for you, and see how its usefulness improves as more users switch. There’s no rush here – WhatsApp stays safe and you have plenty of time to get this right.