Data Privacy and Cybersecurity

Is WhatsApp Safe? Here's What You Need To Know

It can be a safe communication tool when you use it wisely and take precautions to protect your privacy and security. Here's how.

The WhatsApp logo
Patrick Sison / AP
SMS

More than 2 billion people worldwide use WhatsApp for video and voice calls, text messages and more. This Internet-based app is especially popular for international calling because it allows for free communication no matter what device you're using or where you're located, with more features than regular text messaging apps — including cross-functionality between iOS and Android systems.

But is WhatsApp safe for everyone to use?

Is WhatsApp Safe?

The app uses end-to-end encryption, preventing third parties from accessing data while it's transferred from the sender to the recipient. Because of this, WhatsApp is generally considered safe for messaging.

"Any messages sent between any users are fully encrypted, so the only people able to decode them are the sender and recipient — not even WhatsApp," Kristen Bolig, CEO at SecurityNerd, told Business Insider. "So even if hackers intercept a message, they aren't able to decode it."

But technology is constantly evolving, and the "bad guys" are always finding new ways to get what they want. And programs can have bugs or weaknesses that give would-be hackers a foothold.

For instance, WhatsApp developers found a flaw earlier this year that made the app vulnerable to malware. Attackers could potentially install malicious software onto WhatsApp users' phones remotely during video calls.

Fortunately, developers issued an update with a patch for this and another bug they found. However, this might cause you to wonder, is WhatsApp safe?

By learning about features, risks and other factors, you can determine if it is. Understanding the dangers you may encounter using the app and using tips to secure your information can help you use the app without worrying. 

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Using Safety And Privacy Features

The end-to-end encryption provided by WhatsApp only protects your chats and voice calls within the app. If your phone backs up app data and stores it on the cloud, such as iCloud or Google Drive, it will no longer be encrypted and could be vulnerable to hacking.

WhatsApp provides a solution for this. You can enable encryption for your WhatsApp backups. Here's how.

1. Open WhatsApp and go to Settings. On an iPhone, tap Settings on the lower right of your screen. On Android, select the three-dot menu in the upper-right and then choose Settings.

2. Select Chats and then choose Chat backup.

3. Next, tap End-to-end encrypted backup and then select Turn on.

4. Follow the prompts to create a password or key.

5. Select Create and wait for the process to complete. Connect your device to a power source if prompted.

WhatsApp

By default, WhatsApp privacy settings allow users to see your read receipts, About section and profile photo or add you to groups. They also allow your contacts to view your status updates. You can easily change these settings if you want more privacy.

On an iPhone, go to Settings > Privacy. On an Android device, go to More Options (the three-dot menu)  > Settings > Privacy.

In this menu, you can change permissions for the following:

- Your Last seen and online

- Your profile photo

- Your About information

- Your status updates

- Read receipts

- Who can add you to groups

Note that some of these changes will also affect what you can see. For instance, if you turn off read receipts, you won't be able to see them from other users.

You can also use two-step verification in WhatsApp to create a unique PIN that will be required to access your account. To enable this, go to WhatsApp Settings, select Account, tap Two-step verification, choose Enable and enter a six-digit PIN of your choice.

Another way to improve the security of your WhatsApp application is to ensure you are using the most recent version. Developers deliver fixes within app updates. Most phones install updates automatically, but you can always check to be certain.

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On an iPhone, go to the App Store, choose Updates and tap the Update button next to WhatsApp.

On an Android phone, go to the Play Store and tap your profile image in the upper-right corner. Then, choose Manage apps & device > Manage > Updates available to see if an update is available for WhatsApp.

If no updates are available, you have the most recent version and security features installed.

It's also important to note that WhatsApp is owned by Meta, the same company that owns Facebook, Instagram and many other products and services. Like those social media platforms, WhatsApp does collect information about users. Reading the app's Privacy Policy can help you decide if you are comfortable with how that data is used.

Advanced Security Tips

As with any app, there are steps you can take to enhance your privacy and safety. For example, be selective about what you share and with whom using WhatsApp, as well as where you are when you use it.

If your recipient is not trustworthy and you share sensitive information, they could take a screenshot of your messages and share them with others. In addition, if you use the app in public, onlookers might be able to read the messages on your phone's screen. You should also be aware of who has physical access to your phone.

Delivered messages are stored on your phone indefinitely. You can delete a message in WhatsApp by pressing and holding the message, tapping Delete and then choosing Delete for me or Delete for everyone.

You can also turn on disappearing messages for all new individual chats by default. Go to WhatsApp Settings, choose Privacy, tap Default message timer and select 24 hours, 7 days or 90 days.

Finally, be sure to watch out for WhatsApp scams. Never share your WhatsApp password or verification code with anyone. Find an alternative way to verify who you are speaking with if you receive a call or message saying a friend or loved one needs help. Don't give out your personal information, and avoid clicking on suspicious links.