Various researches have shown that WhatsApp and Facebook are prompting more divorces than ever; and when we posted a April 1st prank stating WhatsApp can now charge Rs 5 for deleting ‘last seen’ stamp, there was a reason it became a huge hit with our readers.
Many WhatsApp chats are secretive, they are full of confessions and damning information about others. People usually open up on chats, as they are as personal as it can get. In April this year, when WhatsApp announced roll out of fully encrypted chats, messages and voice calls, then their users had erupted in joy.
Besides, there is an option to delete chats as well, and so our secrets are saved, assumed innocent WhatsApp users.
But a new study conducted by famed iOS researcher Jonathan Zdziarski has claimed that WhatsApp’s deleted chat messages are not permanently deleted after all. As per his observations, forensic tools can easily scoop out those dirty, secret messages which the user had deleted earlier.
On his blog, Jonathan stated, “.. The latest version of the app tested leaves forensic trace of all of your chats, even after you’ve deleted, cleared, or archived them… even if you “Clear All Chats”.”
This new revelation can create some stir among hardcore WhatsApp users, as their messages and chats are now vulnerable to being discovered, one day.
How Can Deleted Messages Be Restored On WhatsApp?In his study, Jonathan has admitted that WhatsApp is clean on this, as they are actually not storing any chats as part of their encryption outreach. However, when a user deletes the chat, then that particular dataset is not entirely deleted and it leaves ‘forensic artifact’, which can be later scooped out using tools.
This problem with deletion is pretty common, especially those messengers which use SQLite for maintaining the database. In fact, iMessage from Apple also faces the same issues.
Interestingly, WhatsApp uses iCloud for backups (if you are using an Apple device), and these are not encrypted as a default feature.
When a data record is deleted, it is added to a ‘Free List’; and records on this ‘Free List’ are over-written only when the memory needs extra storage due to creation of more records and database. And this normally doesn’t happen often within a smartphone having a 512 MB to 2 GB RAM.
In fact, deleting large chunks of data will automatically make this ‘Free List’ even more bigger, thereby protecting your deleted messages for even longer time.
How Can Messages Be Permanently Deleted?In short, the messages, chats cannot be permanently deleted, ever. Even if you uninstall the app, there would be traces of the database on your smartphone, desktop, iPad and even on the iCloud and WhatsApp’s servers.
Law enforcement authorities can access these messages in case they want, and there is very little the end user can do about that.
However, there are some methods which Jonathan has tried to provide for permanently deleting your WhatsApp messages:
- SQLite Database can be marked by the manufacturer so that it doesn’t backup your messages, ever. However, extracting a full copy of such a database becomes easier with this method
- Developers can set PRAGMA secure_delete=ON before deleting the messages, so that the deleted content is overwritten automatically.
Privacy had always been an issue with messengers, and the latest revelation by Jonathan once again proves the seriousness of the problem.