back to article British Army adopts WhatsApp for formal orders as coronavirus isolation kicks in

The British Army has made a coronavirus-related tech U-turn after telling soldiers that commands issued over WhatsApp are now legally binding. In written orders posted to a Ministry of Defence intranet site, an Army unit told its soldiers that from now on, orders delivered over WhatsApp are to be treated just as seriously as …

  1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    FAIL

    So Facebook is in command of the British Army

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: So Facebook is in command of the British Army

      I'm fairly certain that this is more related to troops self isolating being given orders to "stay at home" via irregular methods and them then turning up to the base infecting people claiming they want the order directly face to face.

      One doubts that this is going to be used while troops are in kit; they have far better equipment available.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So Facebook is in command of the British Army

        Not for instant messaging they don't...

    2. drand

      Re: So Facebook is in command of the British Army

      All Your Base Are Belong To Us

  2. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    WTF?

    Is this Standard WhatsApp?

    Or some dedicated mil-net version.

    If standard the mind boggles. Isn't that a massive infosec risk?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

      No more so than email...

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

        I sincerely, nay desperately, hope that the army doesn't convey orders via email either.

    2. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

      End to end encryption that the government can't crack?

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

        Sounds like an upgrade to me.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

        "End to end encryption that the government can't crack?"

        Don't worry, Facebook will slurp the keystrokes (purely for quality control purposes, of course, definitely not for targetted advertising) before passing the text to the encryption/transmission part of the app...

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

          To be fair, targeted advertising is probably better than the usual military procurement process.

          "Other forces being deployed to helmand, bought actual armoured vehicles instead of civie SUVs painted green"

          1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

            Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

            Oh dear. Another example of not knowing the difference between a "civvie SUV" and military Wolfs. Or the difference between an armoured vehicle and a rapid response vehicle. What the military *should* have been buying is up to the military specification procedures.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

              The original deployment as to take snatch landies from N.I. and paint them sand coloured while making smug statements about how their experience in Belfast meant they knew how to deal with Johhny Terrorist

              But don't take my word for it, there is rather a good display at that bastion of hippie communism - the imperial war museum. The high court recently allowed group of families to sue the MoD for negligence in not equipping with the same level of armoured protection other forces had

              1. Bliar003

                Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

                That WAS the same armoured protection other forces had. Specialised vehicles were only developed for UK and other forces years down the line.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

          End-to-end encryption IS NOT A PROBLEM if the user is USING A PRIVATE CIPHER before the messages enter the channel. Maybe the Army is using this approach -- just as any well informed "bad guys" have been doing!! Why worry about end-to-end encryption if your messaging is already secure?

          *

          Try this for size:

          *

          0iSQ0TAr0tVP1ki$1KiV14ys0EWr1F=00a2L1Y2S

          1TR015qy0FIM1jBv0oG10fjT11pR0BLR0pdb0bNM

          0ETi08Y90E9Q1MQ50dX10LsH1avq1mYz0F1W0Nop

          1lFR0Jzl0JUx0tFu0xlY1H4=12yd1bYT1K1T11Zp

          1en00UsN0paN0rmn1B2t0fIW0$eU19T31JnI1hwY

          14R61gOI1EkO0EGV0Kz4120F0ZXv04sk0XmQ15NY

          0CZe1Fsq04jW0Oq60VTs0=cM

          *

          1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

            You wanna try saying that to my face?

            1. G Watty What?

              Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

              They did_____

              0____i_____SQ0TAr0tVP1ki$1KiV14ys0EWr1F=00a2____L____1Y2S

              1TR___0____15qy0FIM1jB___v____0oG10fjT11pR0BLR0pdb0bNM

              0ETi08Y90______E______9Q1MQ50dX10LsH1avq1mYz0F1W0Nop

              1lFR0Jzl0JUx0tFu0xl____Y____1H4=12yd1bYT1K1T11Zp

              1en0____0____UsN0paN0rmn1B2t0fIW0$e____U____19T31JnI1hwY

              14R61gOI1EkO0EGV0Kz4120F0ZXv04sk0XmQ15NY

              0CZe1Fsq04jW0Oq60VTs0=cM

              Kinda sweet really.

              GCHQ, are you seeing this, I cracked this in like 5 minutes.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Is this Standard WhatsApp?

                Want a job ?

                Anon of course.

  3. big_D Silver badge
    Facepalm

    You mean?

    The app that contravenes GDPR by sending all contact information back to the mothership...

    Data leak tomorrow, SAS chatgroup member list found on the dark web!

    1. 0laf Silver badge

      Re: You mean?

      I know WhatsApp was rolled out as a crisis measure in lots of places a few years back during bad flooding but those USP that it had then have been taken on by MS Teams, Google thing etc. Whether you loath Teams or not isn't relevant at least you can have some oversight and control of it unlike anything from Facebook.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: You mean?

        If you have to use Teams on your mobile in a crisis then you won't be using it for long. You'd have hard time finding an app which hammers the battery as much as Teams.

        1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

          Re: You mean?

          Similar on a laptop - will be most CPU and memory hungry service you run...

        2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

          Re: You mean?

          The facebook app seems to be a bit of a battery hog, at least on iOS.

        3. Colin Wilson 2

          Re: You mean?

          “If you have to use Teams on your mobile in a crisis then you won't be using it for long. You'd have hard time finding an app which hammers the battery as much as Teams.”

          Slack?

          1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

            Re: You mean?

            Does Slack (Windows desktop version) still use a separate process per channel? Even on decent PC that really bogged things down with more than a handful of channels. Still that was a few years ago... I'd hope they've improved it, but the cynic in me says no.

    2. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: You mean?

      Leaking SAS names to the darkweb I'd class as similar to trying suicide by cop.

  4. jonha

    1. April come early? Or what?

    No further comment necessary.

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    Whatsnext

    Ammo resupply via Ammozon prime?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Whatsnext

      Some joker telling them to park tanks outside parliament?

      1. Frederic Bloggs

        Re: Whatsnext

        No point. There's very few people there. Those that are will likely not be in a week's time.

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Whatsnext

      Compared to the MoD logistics system that would be a dream. You could actually get things the next day.

      Actually no need for those last three words.

    3. Stevie Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Whatsnext

      V. witty Wilde. Have an e-beer.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: e-beer?

        But... but... Weatherspoons boss says we should all still go to the pub...

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: e-beer?

          Alcohol is a disinfectant! I have been liberally applying it to my throat for decades.

  6. Danny 2 Silver badge

    WWZ

    We need to learn from zombie apocalypse movies. World War Z, partly filmed in Glasgow, showed North Korea alone survived the zombie apocalypse because the dictator had everyone else's teeth removed.The vector of disease transmission there was biting by teeth.

    The vector of disease transmission here is kids touching their faces with their hands.

    So instead of killing all the kids, we just amputate their hands.

    Or gloves. Gloves could work.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: WWZ

      We need to learn from zombie apocalypse movies.

      What exactly do we need to learn? Never go to Glasgow?

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: What exactly do we need to learn? Never go to Glasgow?

        Does it need zombie apocalypse movies to teach that particular lesson...?

    2. Danny Boyd Bronze badge

      Re: WWZ

      How is touching your face with dirty gloves better than with dirty hands?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: WWZ

        > How is touching your face with dirty gloves better than with dirty hands?

        Good point. Amputation it is then.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: WWZ

          Or superglue applied to the nostrils - kids can't then touch anything else

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: touching your face with dirty gloves

        The missus pointed this out to some random guy in the supermarket after she'd watched him touch his face about six times whilst browsing the aisle - it didn't go down well with said numpty.

        Maybe the answer is homemade "space helmets" from large goldfish bowls, like you always wanted to do as an eight year old?

    3. southen bastard

      Re: WWZ

      what we learn is ALWAYS DOUBLE TAP !!!

      And we could amputate there faces, much more practal

    4. Kane Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: WWZ

      "So instead of killing all the kids, we just amputate their hands.

      Or gloves. Gloves could work."

      Why would you want to amputate their gloves?

    5. GrahamRJ

      Re: WWZ

      Oh dear. As zombie fiction goes, WWZ is one of the best there is. Depth of plot, depth of writing, depth of characterisation, depth of *thinking* generally. The changes in military doctrine to "Zack ain't in a hurry, why are you?", fortified motorways in Britain, all that generally - it's a work of complete genius. As zombie films go though, WWZ is one to avoid.

      Biting is a great example of why to avoid the film. There are plenty of other ways to break skin, so removing teeth really won't help.

      And North Korea in the book is one of the creepiest parts. In the book, their Glorious Leader forces the entire population into underground bomb-shelter bunkers. These are deliberately left sealed, because it's very likely the entire population of the country in those bunkers are now zombies, but no-one knows for sure.

  7. LeahroyNake Silver badge

    SIGINT anyone?

    "The Register verified from the full screenshot (not published) that the WhatsApp order was posted on the internal Defence Gateway intranet."

    First off and somewhat worrying is that a person has access to this when they are no longer a member of the full time Army. FTRS or reserves probably shouldn't have access either. You sign the official secrets act for life and not just until you leave the initial employment period. The idiot that shared this info with you should look at the remaining people that worked at Bletchley Park who still to this day do not talk about what they did there. (You should visit, it's a very good day out and really brings home the efforts of all involved / make sure you visit the radio room first, on the right as you exit the main entrance. Awesome people there and just wow sets you up for the rest of the site if you have no idea about radio etc)

    Disclosing internal military communication practice, not a good idea whatever the reason.

    Finally using bloody WhatsApp? At least use Signal FFS or maybe Telegram. Fracking WhatsApp! Who the hell thought that was a good idea.

    X forces member, they never had my personal mobile number and never will. That's what a work phone is for.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: SIGINT anyone?

      'FTRS or reserves probably shouldn't have access either.'

      Pretty hard doing all the mandatory online training without access to the Defence Gateway. Also given the classification of information that it can hold the person who sent the screenshot either didn't break the Official Secrets Act, or the person who put it on the Defence Gateway also did.

      That's not to say a disciplinary case isn't warranted but that's got nothing to do with the OSA.

    3. YTC#1

      Re: SIGINT anyone?

      I had to read a long way down before finding the 1st post that mentioned some of the options available, that were probably more sensible.

      What should also be consider is Next Cloud. This has it's own add in messenger, is also available on Android and Iphone/Pad. Plus, it can be run on their own servers. (if they have not been farmed out to 3rd party US firms)

    4. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: SIGINT anyone?

      Maybe Whatsapp will only be used for non classified orders?

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: SIGINT anyone?

      Fun fact: the OSA is an Act, this it is legally binding regardless of whether or not you actually signed it. Signing is just a reminder; a formality to hammer home the importance of OPSEC.

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    WTF?

    "the Army's top Sergeant Major"

    With all due respect to a man who can certainly bury me in any physical fitness test he should care to mention, how is it that a Sergeant Major is in charge of defining Army protocol ?

    Isn't that the charge of generals, or something ?

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: "the Army's top Sergeant Major"

      Sergeant Major of The Army, I think.

      Slightly different beast.

      1. Arctic fox

        Re: "Slightly different beast"

        Indeed :).

        "The Army Sergeant Major is the most senior member of the other ranks of the British Army. Both appointment holders have actually been commissioned officers holding the rank of captain, although uniform and insignia similar to that of a warrant officer class 1 is worn while holding the appointment." Wikipedia

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: "the Army's top Sergeant Major"

      I believe that Sergeant Majors are employed to shout at people, so it makes sense that there would be a Head of Shouting at People somewhere in the army. You 'orrible little man, you.

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

        1. Diogenes

          Re: "the Army's top Sergeant Major"

          Yep , one for each level of HQ. They are advisors to the Commander on matters enlisted, not shouty type SMs.

          In Australia …

          The RSM-A is responsible to the Chief of Army, but responsive to all ranks across Army. The RSM-A is a member of the personal staff of the Chief of Army. The RSM-A’s primary role is to represent to the Chief of Army, and others, the solicited and unsolicited views concerns and opinions of Soldiers in the Army, but also carry the Chief of Army’s message down and across the ranks.

          1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: "the Army's top Sergeant Major"

              The story is about communications technology, shouting is the Army's preferred method of communications - so the chief shouty man is in charge of communication - QED

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "the Army's top Sergeant Major"

              Our RSM was quite strict about drinking time. "Mess attendance is a manifestation of esprit de corps." ...

              1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

                Re: "the Army's top Sergeant Major"

                In the outfit I served, going to the mess (pub) for drinks was always referred to as "Attending prayer service".

    3. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Mushroom

      Re: "the Army's top Sergeant Major"

      Even <deity of choice> looks up to head honcho Sergeant Major of the Army.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "the Army's top Sergeant Major"

      Even senior occifers are scared of RSMs.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We still have an army?

    Who'ld have thunk it!

  10. genghis_uk Bronze badge

    Whatsapp??? At least they could use Signal - hey, it even sounds more military!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      WhatsApp... great for group chats and crossing borders, but I will never understand what's wrong with text messages for one-one messages!

      1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        SMS has unreliable delivery, no delivery receipts ( other than auto-reply ). Also with WhatsApp, sending images, videos, voice recordings, other attachments and gifs is easy and not done over (expensive) MMS.

        Also you might as well message individuals on the same system as your group chats.

        1. graclarkey

          Issue everybody an iPhone and use iMessage instead. Apple is no saint, but up against Fakebook Inc, I know which I’d choose to handle my information.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What the cunting fuck? Legally binding military orders given over a network owned not only by a different bloody country but fucking Facebook? I despair.

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Surely it will be used for trivial orders such as turn up to X at Y. There is unlikely to be an "Invading France" group chat.

      1. phuzz Silver badge
        Trollface

        Why France? Let's invade Belgium, better beer!

      2. BrownishMonstr Bronze badge

        But isn't now the best time?

        1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that we don't invade France. Just that it not be planned over WhatsApp.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Doesn't matter to a certain extent. Facebook is a data mining company who make their money selling that data on. You get enough people using it and you have no secrets anymore. Even if you limit chat to "non-operational only" (and I would posit that giving orders over WhatsApp is definitely "operational"); the metadata; timestamps; geolocation etc. gives potential miners an amazing amount of your data. Even if you believe the "end-to-end" data guff (and frankly I don't), the metadata etc is enough to seriously compromise an army's activities. Then you look at the potential customers - anyone who wants to give facebook money. That's everybody else's military, for a start.

        It wouldn't be especially hard for the forces to commission their own chat app. Encrypt it reliably (that'd be the expensive bit) and run it through our own servers.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Even the Russians have banned this nonsense.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            They learned the hard way. When they were in their "we're totally not invading Crimea" phase, they were outed several times by careless use of social media.

            I thought our lot had more bloody sense.

  12. Peter Prof Fox

    Operation name needed

    Market Garden? Inflatable Dolly? Barbarossa? Torch? Rabbit-in-headlight? Latrine-Roll?

    It's not real without an operation name.

    1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

      Re: Operation name needed

      Surely can only be Operation Face-Palm...

  13. Nifty Bronze badge

    Next... flame wars

  14. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Most likely the current orders will be more along the lines of "self isolate for 14 days and turn up for duty on $date".

  15. dharmOS
    WTF?

    Signal plus VPN for US SF

    By all accounts, US Special Forces are using Signal and VPN app on their military issued phones.

    https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/2020/01/23/deployed-82nd-airborne-unit-told-to-use-these-encrypted-messaging-apps-on-government-cellphones/

    The most useful app to communicate is the one the most employees have already installed on their personal phones.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seriously? They're giving all the secrets to F*c*book?

    Signal might make sense, iMessage might make sense. But F*c*ing F*c*book?

    The stupid, it burns.

  17. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    I wouldn't do it...

    I wouldn't put WhatsApp on my phone. Order says they have to be reachable by phone, go ahead and text. Facebook does not need my private information.

  18. Gra4662

    Sergeant Majors

    Will Sergeant Majors only use capitals ?

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Sergeant Majors

      YEEESS!!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    April 1st is still a pandemic away.

    Nearly 2 weeks of stupid stories left before April Fools Day.

    Mind you, the MOD are fools for every day.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "You can't tell people off over WhatsApp; it just doesn't work"

    Also they have evidence if they want to bring bullying charges against you.

  21. Blackjack Silver badge

    So...

    Are these guys not aware this App is not what we could call privacy focused?

    It may not be the bundle of spyware that is Skype, but is still not a good option.

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