What is end-to-end encryption?

What is end-to-end encryption?

Understand more about end-to-end encryption and how to support your child to balance privacy and safety.

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End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is a security tool used to make sending and receiving messages,  images or videos more secure. It means that as *data is sent from one person to another, it cannot be seen by anyone else other than the sender and receiver.  It works by encrypting or ‘scrambling’ the data as it travels through a server, to the other person:

Sender: Hi Alex!   >   Server: %&%^drkofdhp  >   Receiver: Hi Alex!

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When E2EE is used, not even the platform itself can see or get access to the messages, images or videos being sent between sender and receiver.

*Data = data is information that is stored and processed digitally and includes text, images, audio or video.

*Server = a computer that stores, receives and sends information (like online messages and emails).

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What are the benefits to end-to-end encryption?

Many of us are already using E2EE every day, possibly without knowing it or giving it much thought. Apps like WhatsApp and Zoom have E2EE built in to secure communications on their platforms.

The use of E2EE means that when we share messages, images and videos, or want to talk in private with people, there is an extra layer of security stopping strangers, including hackers, from accessing this data or information. Many people will choose apps with E2EE for this reason.

Should I talk to my child about using end-to-end encryption?

If you haven’t done so already, add the topic of the potential risks of E2EE to your regular conversations with your child. Regular conversations about a range of topics relating to online safety and relationships can help them be safer and know how and when to seek help.

Whilst E2EE can help protect your child’s privacy and security, it also means that platforms are unable to use tools to detect when people are targeting children online for illegal reasons and take action.

For example, platforms are unable able to detect when someone grooms, tricks or forces a child into:

  • online sexual abuse
  • taking and sharing nude images of themselves

How can I support my child to balance privacy and safety?

  1. Have regular, balanced conversations with your child. Remember that children and young people often won’t know that the site or app they’re using is end-to-end encrypted or what the opportunities and potential risks are. Let them lead the conversation, taking the time to hear your child’s views and opinions. Discuss what online public and private spaces are and the benefits and risks of each.

  2. Learn together. It’s OK to not know how every single app works or how to put the best privacy settings in place for you and your family. Together, take a look at what settings are set as standard and adjust ones that can  improve safety. For help, you can search for specific apps or platforms on Internet Matters.  

  3. Help them to identify when something isn’t right. Discuss how your child might know if someone online is trying to manipulate or coerce them, particularly those asking to move to an E2EE space. It may help to share our article on online grooming.

  4. Empower them to seek support. Your child should never feel uncomfortable, blackmailed or worried by their online communications. If anything has happened that makes them feel this way, it is important they know it is not their fault and there is help and support there for them. Let them know that they can talk to you if something has happened and that you won’t judge or blame. Make them aware of confidential support from Childline and reporting to CEOP, if they feel unable to talk to you.

    Support them to report directly to the platform as well as reporting to Police. As E2EE messages cannot be seen by the platform, encouraging your child to not delete and, if they feel comfortable to do so, take screenshots of any messages of concern on E2EE platforms, can help police and other agencies take action against the individual and protect your child. 

    Let your child know that even if they have already deleted messages, there is still help out there for them and they should still seek help and support.