What is end-to-end encryption?


What is end-to-end encryption?

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. 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.

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 the children and young people I work with about using end- to-end encryption?

If you haven’t done so already, add the potential risks of E2EE to your regular conversations with children and young people, and the education you provide on a range of topics relating to online safety and relationships.

Many children and young people you work with may be concerned about their privacy and security online. Whilst E2EE can help protect their 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 the children I work with to balance privacy and safety?

1. Have regular, balanced conversations with children and young people. 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, as their lived experience is likely to be different to yours.

You can include these conversations as part of the wider education you provide around online safety and healthy relationships online. If the children and young people you work with are 11+, you could also explore our young person’s article on E2EE to help start a conversation.

2. Support families to understand end-to-end encryption.  You may want to share our parents and carers article with them. Remind them that it’s ok to not know how every single app works or what privacy settings are available. Signpost them to where they can go for additional support and help, like searching for specific apps or platforms on Internet Matters.

3. Help children and young people to identify when something isn’t right. Discuss how children and young people might know if someone online is trying to manipulate or coerce them, particularly those you know are wanting to move to an E2EE environment. It may help to share our article on online grooming.

4. Empower them to seek support. Make sure the children and young people you work with know that if they ever feel uncomfortable, or worried in their online communications, that 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.

5. Know where you can go to report and seek further support. If you think a child or young person may be at risk of immediate harm, call 999. Refer to your internal safeguarding policy and procedures for any concerns you may have; this may involve reporting to police and directly to the platform.  As E2EE messages cannot be seen by the platform, encouraging children and young people to not delete and where appropriate, take screenshots of any messages of concern on E2EE platforms, can help police and other agencies take steps to protect them and hold those who may wish to harm them to account for their actions.  

 For further advice and support about your concerns, you can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.