Telegram’s co-founder and chief executive, Pavel Durov, is very clear in one of his latest publications: “WhatsApp will never be safe. This forceful statement is part of a text in which the developer seeks to explain why, in his view, the messaging application in the hands of Facebook will remain open to surveillance.
“All their security problems are conveniently suited for surveillance and look a lot like backdoor.”
Durov takes as his starting point WhatsApp’s latest major security problem, claiming that “the world seems surprised,” to argue why he believes the application bought by Mark Zuckerberg a few years ago has numerous security problems that “look a lot like the back doors. The insinuations are clear.
“No wonder dictators like WhatsApp.”
Pavel Durov begins to sow doubts about WhatsApp’s safety from the beginning of his article. Before speculating about backdoor and the resemblance that some Facebook application security problems have to them, the founder of the Russian alternative makes things clear: “Every time WhatsApp has to correct a critical vulnerability in its application, a new one appears in its place.
The doubt about hypothetical backdoor reinforces it with a fact: “Unlike Telegram, WhatsApp is not open source, so a security researcher cannot easily check if there are backdoor in his code. And it goes further, because it claims not only that it does not publish it, but that it does exactly the opposite: it deliberately obfuscates it “to make sure that no one can study them in depth”.
“WhatsApp is not open source, so a security investigator can’t easily check for back doors.
However, Durov says that it is possible that these back doors are demanded of them from the FBI. And, he says, “it’s not easy to run a secure communication application from the United States. As he explains, a Telegram team spent a week in the land of the stars and stripes in 2016 and, during that time, recorded three attempts at infiltration by the FBI. “Imagine what 10 years in that environment can bring to a U.S.-based company,” he says.
The confuser of one of WhatsApp’s great rivals, a regular winner of its falls, recalls the anti-terrorist justification for the back doors of communication platforms and the obvious problem: that those back doors “can also be used by criminals and authoritarian governments. And he goes on to say, “No wonder dictators like WhatsApp.
“Their [WhatsApp’s] lack of security allows them to spy on their own people, so WhatsApp is still available for free in places like Russia or Iran, where authorities prohibit Telegram.
In fact, I started working at Telegram in direct response to personal pressure from the Russian authorities. At that time, in 2012, WhatsApp was still transferring plain text messages in transit. That was crazy. Not only governments or hackers, but also mobile phone providers and Wi-Fi administrators had access to all WhatsApp texts.
Pavel Durov goes on to explain the different encryption measures implemented by the famous messaging application, with “some encryption” first, and then end-to-end encryption “so that no one else can access the messages. The latter coincided with “an aggressive campaign” for users to back up their conversations. “WhatsApp did not inform its users that, when backing up, messages are no longer protected by end-to-end encryption and can be accessed by hackers and law enforcement,” he says.
According to his text, those who have not agreed to make backups as requested by the pop-ups that appeared in WhatsApp, “can be tracked with a series of tricks, from accessing the backups of their contacts to invisible changes in encryption keys. “Metadata generated by WhatsApp users is filtered to all types of agencies in large volumes by the parent company,” he says.
“Looking back, there hasn’t been a day in WhatsApp’s 10-year journey that this service has been secure.”
“WhatsApp has a consistent history, from zero encryption at its inception to a succession of security issues strangely suited for surveillance purposes. Looking back, there hasn’t been a day in WhatsApp’s 10-year journey that this service has been secure. That’s why I don’t think the simple update of WhatsApp’s mobile application makes it safe for everyone. For WhatsApp to become a privacy-oriented service, it must risk losing entire markets and colliding with the authorities in its home country. They don’t seem ready for that.
The head of Telegram also recalls that last year the founders of WhatsApp left the company “because of concern for users’ privacy” and says that he himself had to leave his country, Russia, after refusing “to comply with violations of the privacy of VK users authorized by the government. He explains that it was not pleasant, but he would gladly do it again.
“Telegram has had no data leaks or security problems.”
Pavel Durov states that Telegram has done a “bad job” in persuading WhatsApp users since, although they have attracted hundreds of millions of users in recent years, “many people cannot stop using WhatsApp because their friends and family are still using it” and “most Internet users are still hostages of the Facebook/WhatsApp/Instagram empire”.
At this point, Durov boasts of the security he says he has Telegram:
“In almost 6 years of its existence, Telegram did not have any major data leakage or security flaws of the kind WhatsApp demonstrates every few months. In the same 6 years, we revealed exactly zero bytes of data to third parties, while Facebook/WhatsApp has been sharing almost everything with everyone who claimed to work for a government.
“It’s either us or Facebook’s monopoly.”
Finally, the head of Telegram says that in recent times WhatsApp copies functions from its application, even says that Mark Zuckerberg wants to appropriate the philosophy of its platform around privacy and speed, but that complaining about it will not help them and must admit that they are carrying out an intelligent strategy. And he recalls the case of Snapchat and the emulation of part of its functioning.
“At Telegram we have to recognize our responsibility in shaping the future. It’s either us or Facebook’s monopoly. It’s freedom and privacy or greed and hypocrisy. Our team has been competing with Facebook for the last 13 years. We already beat them once, in the Eastern European social networking market. We will beat them again in the global messaging market. We have to do it.
Durov acknowledges that it won’t be easy, but he appeals to his users. “If you like Telegram enough, you will tell your friends. And if every Telegram user convinces 3 of their friends to remove WhatsApp and move permanently to Telegram, Telegram will already be more popular than WhatsApp,” he explains. “The era of greed and hypocrisy will end. An era of freedom and privacy will begin. It is much closer than it seems.