Is WhatsApp Safe? | Hacker Noon

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WhatsApp is the most popular messenger owned by Facebook. According to the official stats, the number of WhatsApp active users has reached 1 billion in 2020. Just imagine, approximately 65 million messages are sent via this social app daily.  Since the app is so popular, it’s very attractive for hackers. In this article, I’ll tell you about the major WhatsApp security threats, which will help you protect your chats and shared media from hackers, WhatsApp spy apps, and keylogging software. 

Unencrypted backup copies

WhatsApp message transmission is always encrypted, meaning that only the recipient and you can decode it. This feature doesn’t allow anybody, including Facebook, to access the transmitted data. Unfortunately, this doesn’t protect your chats once they are decrypted on your smartphone.

WhatsApp offers a back-up feature for all Android and iOS devices, enabling you to recover accidentally removed chats. Other than cloud-based backup, there’s also a local backup on your smartphone. If you’re an Android user, you can save your copies to GoogleDrive, and for iPhone users, Apple offers the well-known iCloud. The backup contains chats and messages decrypted on your device. 

Backed up files on iCloud and Google Drive are unencrypted. These cloud-based services are theoretically vulnerable, which undermines WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption.

As we can’t choose our backup location, we are at the mercy of the cloud providers to keep the data safe and sound. And though there haven’t been massive hacking attacks on these cloud-based services, there’s no 100% warranty that your files are secure. 

WhatsApp Web Service

Most cybercriminals use this service to access their targets’ WhatsApp chats. WhatsApp is available on the official website or as a desktop app when we can scan the code on the smartphone and start using the app on a computer. 

But App Store and Google Play apps are thoroughly checked before going online, while usual online stores may be insecure. When we search for WhatsApp on App Store, it’s crystal clear what app is official. On the Net, the messenger is strangely easy to mistake for spyware and hacking apps. 

There are a lot of scammers passing off their malicious apps as an official WhatsApp desktop utility.

When such an app, accordingly, is downloaded and installed on a device, your chats and media are no longer secure. 

Some hackers used other methods, for example, created fishing websites to leak personal data. These websites looked like the WhatsApp web version and asked the target for a phone number to connect to the server. Then the recorded phone number was used to send spam or to correlate with other leaked data on the Net.

Overall, for security purposes, you should use applications and services from official sources. In WhatsApp, there’s a WhatsApp web-client for any PC. There are also official apps for Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows devices. 

WhatsApp Status

For many years, WhatsApp status (a short text line) has been the only possibility to share your current mood or activities with your contacts. Further, this feature morphed into WhatsApp Status that looks like a popular Stories option on Instagram. 

Instagram is a public platform, though if you wish you can hide your profile. WhatsApp, on the other hand, is a more intimate service used for chatting with friends and family. So, WhatsApp Status seems to be private as well. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Anybody from your WhatsApp contacts can view your status. However, you can manage the visibility of your status.

In Settings > Account> Privacy > Status you’ll find 3 privacy options: My contacts; My contacts except…; Only share with…

Though WhatsApp can’t make it clear if the blocked contacts are allowed to view your status, at least such contacts can’t check your status regardless of your privacy settings. Like in Instagram Stories, any videos and photos will disappear in 24 hours. 

Fake news

In recent years, social networks were an object of criticism for their loyal attitude to the spread of fake news and disinformation. Facebook, particularly, was a participant in a court proceeding for disseminating false information throughout the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign. WhatsApp was also criticized for the same reason. 

The most notable cases took place in India and Brazil. In the first case, the messenger was used for spreading violence in 2017-2018. The widespread messages contained details of fabricated child abductions with concrete data about pseudo culprits. 

In Brazil, WhatsApp was a source of fake news throughout the 2018 elections. Since such data is easily spread, Brazilian businessmen set up companies for disinformation against the candidates through the well-known IM. This campaign was pretty easy to organize as your phone number is your username on WhatsApp, and the malefactors simply purchased a phone number base. 

Both issues turned 2018 into the worst years in Facebook’s history. It’s not easy to prevent the spread of fake news in our digital era, though many considered WhatsApp’s reaction to those incidents rather passive. 

WhatsApp, however, has undergone some changes. To be more particular, it put limits on forwarding, reducing it from 250 to 5 groups. Besides, the forwarding button was removed in several regions. 

Facebook Data Sharing

Facebook has been frequently criticized in recent years, basically, for its effective market monopoly and anti-competitive actions. Regulators try to minimize their anti-competitive actions by evaluating and analyzing any takeover attempts. 

Therefore, when Facebook decided that they are going to add WhatsApp to the “Facebook family”, the European Union approved the deal only when Facebook announced that these are 2 different companies and the data from the apps will be stored separately. 

Soon after it, Facebook went back to the agreement and in 2016 WhatsApp Privacy Policy was updated, which allowed Facebook access to WhatsApp data. Though the details about the transmitted data weren’t revealed in full extent, in fact, it includes your phone number and other data like when you last used your account. 

They also announced that none of your data would be publicly visible on Facebook, meaning that it would instead be hidden in Facebook’s inaccessible profile of you. Thanks to the negative reaction to this statement, WhatsApp allowed users to disable this data sharing. But in the intervening years, this option was quietly removed.

This action is likely preparation for Facebook’s future plans. According to the New York Times article published in January 2019, Facebook is going to create a united infrastructure for all messengers (Facebook,  WhatsApp, and Instagram). So, while each service would work as a separate app, all messages would be sent on the same network. 

Conclusion

So after reading this article, it’s fine to ask, “Is WhatsApp safe?”. Well, it’s a controversial question. On the one hand, the app uses end-to-end encryption, implying a high level of security. On the other hand, WhatsApp belongs to Facebook and suffers privacy issues and disinformation spread typical of the parent company.

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