WhatsApp Launches Proxy Support to Combat Internet Shutdowns

WhatsApp, the secure VoIP and messaging platform owned by Meta, announced last week that it now supports the use of proxy servers.

Choosing a proxy enables you to connect to WhatsApp through servers set up by volunteers and organizations around the world dedicated to helping people communicate freely.

The use of proxy servers will not affect the end-to-end encryption that protects WhatsApp users from snooping.

Connecting via proxy maintains the high level of privacy and security that WhatsApp provides. Your personal messages will still be protected by end-to-end encryption — ensuring they stay between you and the person you’re communicating with and are not visible to anyone in between, not the proxy servers, WhatsApp, or Meta.

WhatsApp explained the need for proxy support by referring to the tactics used by the Iranian government to obstruct protests against their authoritarian regime.

Our wish for 2023 is that these internet shutdowns never occur. Disruptions like we’ve seen in Iran for months on end deny people’s human rights and cut people off from receiving urgent help. Though in case these shutdowns continue, we hope this solution helps people wherever there is a need for secure and reliable communication.

Tyrants prevent people organizing against them by taking away the means for communication. Keeping people connected is vital to giving them the power to fight for their rights. In addition to shutting down the internet when it suits them, Iran’s ruling clique has already subverted the country’s telcos by making them all provide an interface so that the government can gather information or interfere with the communications of any phone user. One tactic employed by the Iranian government is to force specific mobile phones to connect to 2G networks so their users receive none of the privacy benefits that come with 3G and 4G. Giving ordinary people a secure way to communicate that cannot be spied upon is a challenge to every repressive regime that now habitually uses electronic communications networks to monitor the entire population.

Even the governments of Western countries have shown themselves increasingly tempted to use comms networks for mass surveillance. As I pointed out recently, there are reasons to fear that 2023 will provide a watershed in normalizing the control of networks by governments. Ignore what governments and brain-dead agencies like the International Telecommunication Union say when they promise to keep people ‘safe’ online. None of them have done a single thing that will alleviate oppression in Iran or many other countries, though they have continued a trend of taking power away from ordinary individuals in order to give it to people like themselves. The only real progress in this domain is being made by the private sector because they benefit by keeping people connected. They may be imperfect, but steps like this development from Meta shows that the only way to secure privacy is to balance the interests of privately-owned comms providers against the more despotic tendencies of every government.

You can read Whatsapp’s announcement here, instructions on how to access Whatsapp by proxy are here, and instructions on how to set up a proxy server are here.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.