End-to-end encryption doesn’t stop the FBI reading your messages. Just ask Paul Manafort

Trump’s former campaign chairman accused of attempted witness tampering.

End-to-end encryption doesn't stop the FBI reading your messages. Just ask Paul Manafort

US prosecutors have accused Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort of attempting to get witnesses to lie for him in court.

According to a motion filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, Manafort contacted witnesses by phone and an encrypted text messaging app in an attempt to secure “materially false testimony.”

Now, if you’re privacy-conscious, you may be alarmed to hear that the authorities were seemingly able to read Manafort’s end-to-end encrypted conversations. Does this suggest that there’s a backdoor in WhatsApp, or a flaw in its encryption code?

Sign up to our free newsletter.
Security news, advice, and tips.

Woah! Don’t panic.

You see, there’s a very easy way the authorities can find out what you have been saying in your encrypted messaging app: They just ask the person to whom you sent the message.

End-to-end encryption is really neat, but it only encrypts *between* those who are doing the communicating. Yes, it stops third parties from intercepting and snooping on your messages, but if the authorities manage to get hold of your unlocked device or simply ask you to show you the messages… they’ve found out what you were talking about.

And that appears to be precisely what has happened in this case.


Persons D1 and D2 both preserved the messages they received from Manafort and Person A, which were sent on encrypted applications, and have provided them to the government.

So, if you have something that needs to be kept secret don’t for a second think that entrusting it to an encrypted messaging app ensures that it won’t end up being seen by others.

Paul Manafort, who is facing multiple charges of money laundering, bank fraud and illegal lobbying, has denied all the charges against him.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

One comment on “End-to-end encryption doesn’t stop the FBI reading your messages. Just ask Paul Manafort”

  1. Malcolm D

    Typo: "simply as you" » "simply ask you"

What do you think? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.