NSAB devises solution for WhatsApp to enable traceability without affecting encryption

Security experts say that WhatsApp does not need to open or read the messages to enable this feature.

As the government continues to call for traceability of WhatsApp messages, the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) appears to have devised a workaround to the problem.

As per a report by The Economic Times, the body which happens to be the security advisor for the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) has reached out to WhatsApp to help them fulfil the Indian government's demand for traceability of messages without disrupting its encryption feature.

Speaking to the publication, IIT Madras professor and a fellow member of the NSAB, V Kamakoti explained the solution using which WhatsApp will be able to provide the phone number of the sender of a message.

 NSAB devises solution for WhatsApp to enable traceability without affecting encryption

A logo of WhatsApp is pictured on a T-shirt worn by a WhatsApp-representative. Reuters

“A request to WhatsApp is that the phone number of the author of a message be made part of the message whenever it is created," he said.

According to the professor, the author's phone number would be sent along with the encrypted message as and when the message is forwarded multiple times. The recipient of the message gets to know the phone number of the author so they can verify the contents of the message, thereby keeping WhatsApp out of the equation. But this is predicated on the fact that the recipient will want to verify the contents of the message, which is a long shot.

"We are ready to work with WhatsApp in case they need any help in getting this implemented... This message has been conveyed to WhatsApp," Prof Kamakoti concluded.

The development comes as part of the government’s order to WhatsApp to trace messages being shared on its platform. The concerns first arose when misinformation and rumours led to a spate of lynchings in mid-2018. Since then, WhatsApp has been under relentless pressure from the government to come with a solution that enables traceability.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) essentially, has been asking WhatsApp to come up with a technological solution to trace the origin of incendiary messages circulated on its platform. The company had denied the Ministry’s directions stating that enabling traceability would compromise the company's core encryption process.

The company had continuously opposed such a tracking mechanism as it said that it would infringe on the privacy of its users. The company also emphasised that it would have to change the entire architecture of its backend to embed elements to trace messages.

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