Facebook introduces end-to-end encryption

Facebook introduces end-to-end encryption, while Google develops protection against quantum decoding

Private chats have been nigh on impossible since back in the 1940s, as suggested by the film, The Imitation Game. Nonetheless, Facebook is testing end-to-end encryption with what it says are “secret conversations”. 

The world’s largest social networking website, with an estimated 1.65 billion users and probably trillions of conversations, Facebook says it is providing an option to keep conversations private.

“We are beginning to roll out a new option within Messenger to better support conversations about sensitive topics,” says Facebook on its blog.

“To enable you to do this we are starting to test the ability to create one-to-one secret conversations in Messenger that will be end-to-end encrypted and which can only be read on one device of the person you’re communicating with.

“That means the messages are intended just for you and the other person — not anyone else, including us.”

End-to-end encryption is something the tech industry says it supports, while governments have generally wanted to retain some access to the data.

The debate rumbles on, but it looks like the authorities will probably have to accept that encryption is not only here to stay, it is becoming more pervasive.

In the meantime, Google is working on what could be described as the next stage of encryption. The search giant is apparently worried that even the most robust of today’s encryption methods could be deciphered by powerful quantum computers from the future.

While quantum computers do not exist yet in large numbers, tech giants such as Google are working with various large organisations, including many in the military and government, on building the technology.

If quantum computers do become available, they are believed to be powerful enough to crack any code — encrypted or not.

So, in anticipation of such a day when quantum computers can routinely break encryption codes, Google is experimenting with entirely new techniques to protect data.

A report on ndtv.com says Google is experimenting with new connections between Chrome and its servers which will use “post-quantum algorithm to prevent decryption of content”.

However, Google says its work is just at the experimental stage at the moment, and it does not anticipate that it will become a standard any time soon.

“We explicitly do not wish to make our selected post-quantum algorithm a de-facto standard,” Google writes on its blog. “To this end we plan to discontinue this experiment within two years, hopefully by replacing it with something better.”

Google says its post-quantum key-exchange algorithm is only installed on a few connections. Users of the company’s Chrome Canary browser can check if they are using the super-strong encryption by looking for CECPQ1 under the Key Exchange in the browser security panel, according to ndtv.com.