Instant messaging application WhatsApp on Thursday clarified that messages shared on the platform are end-to-end encrypted and can be seen only by the sender and receiver and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp, NDTV reported. The company said that people sign up on the platform using only a phone number, and reiterated that WhatsApp does not have access to the content of messages.

The clarification came amid a spate of leaked chats of Bollywood actors that are being investigated by the Narcotics Control Bureau in connection with Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. The agency, which is looking into the drug abuse angle in the actor’s death, has registered a first information report suo moto with the target of “uprooting the drug citadel in Bollywood”.

So far 19 persons have been arrested in the case, including actor Rhea Chakraborty and her brother Showik Chakraborty. On Wednesday, the NCB summoned actors Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor reportedly on the basis of old WhatsApp messages found in the phones of Chakraborty and Rajput’s talent manager Jaya Saha.

But WhatsApp denied any possibility of this and asserted that no third party can access messages. “WhatsApp protects your messages with end-to-end encryption so that only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between can access it, not even WhatsApp,” said a spokesperson of the application.

“It’s important to remember that people sign up on WhatsApp using only a phone number, and WhatsApp doesn’t have access to your message content,” the spokesperson added.

The company spokesperson claimed that WhatsApp encourages people to “take advantage” of all security features provided by operating systems such as strong passwords or biometric IDs to prevent third parties from accessing content stored on device.

How were the chats leaked?

While WhatsApp’s security policy maintains that messages are end-to-end encrypted, it adds that once the messages are backed-up to any external device such as Google Drive or other cloud services, they are no longer encrypted, according to The News Minute.

Reports suggest that investigative agencies such as the NCB accessed the alleged chats between actors using the mobile phone cloning technique. A cloned phone can access WhatsApp back-up chats, which are not encrypted, from wherever they are stored, Google Drive or iCloud.

With this, the agencies create what is called a “mirror image” of your phone, and copy and then transfer all the data onto the separate device. The technique allows you to retrieve all kinds of data, including phone records, messages, images and WhatsApp chats.

Although cloning is an illegal activity, authorities can go through a forensic method to legitimately access data stored on phones, according to NDTV.

The case

On Tuesday, a court in Mumbai extended Chakraborty’s judicial custody till October 6. Chakraborty was arrested on September 9 on charges of drug abuse linked to Rajput’s death. The Narcotics Control Bureau has described Chakraborty as an “active member of a drug syndicate”.

On September 11, the court had denied Rhea Chakraborty bail in the case. Similar requests of Showik Chakraborty, Rajput’s former manager Samuel Miranda and three other accused were also rejected.

Rhea Chakraborty has claimed that she is being framed in the case and has made multiple serious allegations against the Narcotics Control Bureau. The actor has claimed she was “coerced into making self-incriminatory” confessions, which she has now retracted. She said she had “not committed any crime whatsoever and had been falsely implicated in the case”. Chakraborty is the ninth person to be arrested in the drug-related investigation into Rajput’s death.

Rajput was found dead in his apartment in Bandra on June 14, in what the Mumbai Police said was a case of suicide. The Narcotics Control Bureau is the latest agency to be drawn into the case involving the death of the 34-year-old actor, which is already being looked into by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.