China Blocks WhatsApp in Power Move to Further Online Censorship

A Backdoor Allows Hackers to Access Encrypted WhatsApp Messages

China blocks WhatsApp and continues to tighten its grip on online monitoring and regulation.

The Chinese government has recently blocked the popular messaging app WhatsApp. This bold move is thought to be motivated by the upcoming notable Communist Party gathering taking place in October.

China’s latest power-move might prove to be a major blow for Facebook. In a landmark deal, Facebook bought the messaging app, WhatsApp in 2014 for $19bn. Founder and owner of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has expressed a desire to find a way to re-enter the vast and lucrative Chinese market. With China’s tightening policies on social media and messaging apps, this seems more and more unlikely.

Facebook has already been banned in China since 2009, Instagram is another blocked social media service. It is likely that more social media and messaging apps will be blocked in the future.

The gradual blocking of certain WhatsApp service began earlier this year. During mid-July, several functions on WhatsApp became blocked. Users were prevented from sending videos, voice notes, and other multi-media files. However, regular text messaging continued working without disruption.

The initial restrictions on multi-media file sharing were eventually lifted after a few weeks, until the latest blocking of WhatsApp.

According to security experts, the messaging service seems, for now, to be disrupted for an indeterminable amount of time. However, the banning of the service raises some concern as it suggests that perhaps Chinese censors have managed to bypass WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption in order to intercept messages.

Researchers have detected WhatsApp disruptions in China since Wednesday last week, but by this past Monday, the disruptions have turned to a comprehensive blocking system.

Facebook has not yet commented on this latest development.

Although WhatsApp was mostly disrupted by Sunday, a handful of users were still able to access it. This is a common technique on the part of Chinese authorities, where instead of blocking a site or software outright, they slow it down to such an extent that users become discouraged.

The latest censorship move has urged Chinese users to switch from WhatsApp to WeChat a Chinese owned app created by Tencent.

Blocking WhatsApp is thought to be in anticipation of the Communist Party gathering that is taking place in Beijing starting on 18 October. This gathering takes place every five years and is done to choose the Party’s new leader. The chosen leader will, in turn, become the leader of China.

The Chinese government did not only target apps over the last few years, but also churches. They closed down several churches and sentenced several lawyers and human rights activists to imprisonment.

Several Chinese users took to Twitter to convey their anger.

All usage of other popular communication tools, even email, has slowly been fading away thanks to WeChat. The over 963 million users on the app enjoy feature similar to WhatsApp, but considering WeChat’s close ties to the government, this messaging service is likely used for surveillance.

Chinese users can still access blocked and disrupted sites by using a VPN, but considering China’s recent crackdown on VPN provides, it is uncertain for how long this will remain an option.