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While WhatsApp, the private messaging service owned by Meta, is a convenient way to keep in touch with friends and family through text messages and video calls, there’s no denying the security threats that come with using the program: malware, data sharing, or scams.
You may be wondering if you should still use WhatsApp. Read on to learn more about the risks associated with the app and get tips to protect yourself from hackers, scams, and privacy threats, including which of the best antivirus programs can protect you and your devices.
WhatsApp security risks
WhatsApp safety and privacy settings
How to stay safe on WhatsApp
Is WhatsApp safe?
Considering the level of security you get with WhatsApp, the platform is safe to use if you take the proper precautions.
Aside from WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption, parent company Meta has added more security layers, such as a two-step verification process.
Disappearing messages is a feature you can use for more privacy, and it’s optional. If you enable this feature, you can control when your messages disappear. For example, if you’re discussing something personal, like relationship issues with a friend, you can set the messages to delete after a specific time, and no one else will see them. If the recipient doesn’t open the app in that set timeframe, the message still disappears, even if a preview is displayed.
As with any online app, there are risks to using WhatsApp. Keep in mind that WhatsApp shares some of your data with other Meta companies. That will include your phone number, financial transaction information, and how you interact with businesses while using the app.
You’ll want to implement safety techniques, such as using a strong password, controlling your privacy settings, using a VPN, and recognizing common scams.
WhatsApp security risks
As we mentioned, there are always security risks that come with using an online platform. In the following section, we’ll cover the most common risks, so you can stay ahead of these potential threats.
Hackers and malware
Often, hackers try to steal your personal information by sending you a malicious link to download. Once you do, they can get your personal information through infected files. If you use WhatsApp on your desktop, it’s easier for hackers to send malicious desktop programs. It’s not as easy to install viruses when using a mobile phone because the App Store and Google Play provide extra layers of protection. So, users of iPhones and Android devices have a bit more protection from malware.
Still, WhatsApp may not catch some malware that can infect your phone and send messages without your consent. You may be asked to click a link and enter your cell number. Hackers will use your number to send spam and try to hack your data. Often that can be fake news and other misinformation. Meta has begun using device verification to avoid that problem, but nothing is 100% secure.
Best anti-malware programs
A good antivirus protects you from more than just WhatsApp malware, and these three held up under scrutiny in our hands-on testing.
- Norton 360: With excellent malware detection rates, Norton also comes with additional security features like a VPN and identity protection. We also like that it scans the dark web for your email addresses that may have been leaked in a data breach.
See Norton Plans | Read Our Norton Review
- Bitdefender: If you want to bundle a VPN, password manager, parental controls, and antivirus into one pretty package, check out Bitdefender. Even with all these features, its pricing is more than reasonable and it sports great malware detection scores as well.
See Bitdefender Plans | Read Our Bitdefender Review
- MacKeeper: Are you an Apple fan? You'll still need protection, but many antivirus programs skip over iOS and macOS products. Not MacKeeper — it was built for a Mac. It comes with antivirus, patch management, a VPN, and many more features to protect your Apple devices.
See MacKeeper Plans | Read Our MacKeeper Review
Scams can flood your WhatsApp platform, and you should be aware of how they work. For example, if you get a message that someone has a loved one in need, it’s most likely a fake WhatsApp user. If you don’t know the person or don’t recognize the number, block that number. Hackers often impersonate others. A hacker could break into someone else’s account, so it may look like a person you know. If you have doubts, call the person to verify.
Since WhatsApp uses two-factor authentication for security, you may receive a code to access the account. If you didn’t request verification, that’s probably someone attempting to steal your account data.
Be aware of fake memberships that are offering exclusive versions of WhatsApp. The WhatsApp Gold scam is a common one, where you get an invitation to a special edition of the platform. That may look tempting, but WhatsApp only has one version, so the invitation could be malware, and if you enter your information, the hacker could take over your phone and access your data. Don’t give out your phone number, as that gives criminals an access to your information.
Since Meta shares certain data, that can leave users vulnerable to some risks. Although the company explains it shares information only with other Meta companies, that data includes your phone number, Facebook transactions, and how you interact with companies using your app. If that seems harmless, think about the last time you made a purchase or donation through Facebook. When you use this platform, you could be giving out your IP address and financial data.
Even though WhatsApp is secured, if it shares your information with other businesses, these companies can use that data to contact you and send you marketing messages. Also, your data appears to be stored on Facebook. In turn, WhatsApp receives your information from Facebook.
Your WhatsApp account, which requires only a phone number to sign up, may not be as secure as you want. You may think you’ve shared only your phone number, but since WhatsApp sends your data to these other platforms, there may be a lot of your personal information online. To keep your connection more secure, you could use a VPN to hide sensitive information.
Fake news can spread on any platform. Often, these messages get forwarded by others and gain more traction from user to user. Since fake news goes viral quickly, be wary of articles that could have been edited to trick you. The news scams can be similar to the common TikTok scams, but they can contain spelling or grammar errors and will frequently ask you to share your private information.
You’ve likely seen plenty of fake news stories and may have noticed misinformation on social media. Fake news is one of the reasons WhatsApp has a limit on forwarding, allowing you to forward only to five groups.
WhatsApp safety and privacy settings
For the best experience using WhatsApp, you should configure your safety and privacy settings. There are different settings you can adjust that will make the app more secure. We’ll give you the three methods to use that can enhance your privacy while using the app.
Turn on end-to-end encryption
To turn on end-to-end encryption for all your messages:
- Go to Settings.
- Tap Chats, Chat Backup, End-to-End Encrypted Backup.
- Click Turn On. Follow any prompts to create a password or key.
- Tap Create to allow WhatsApp to prepare an end-to-end encrypted backup.
Adjust privacy settings
To change your WhatsApp privacy settings:
- Go to your device Settings
- Click Privacy
- Change what other users can see, such as read receipts.
If you want the most privacy, it’s a good idea to limit who can see the following information:
- Last Seen and Online statuses
- Profile photo
- About information
- Status updates
- Read receipts
- Add you to groups
Of course, changing what others can see about you will also affect what you can see about them. That’s a fair trade to keep your own info private. You’re safest when other users have limitations on what they know about you.
Enable Touch ID or Face ID
Using Touch ID or Face ID on WhatsApp gives you an extra layer of security. When you enable this feature, you must use either Touch ID or Face ID to unlock WhatsApp.
- Go to WhatsApp Settings.
- Click Privacy, then Screen Lock.
- Turn on Require Touch ID or Require Face ID.
- Choose the length of time WhatsApp can be on standby mode before either Touch ID or Face ID is required.
How to stay safe on WhatsApp
You can use WhatsApp safely by implementing some general rules and taking some steps to limit the possibility of data leaks. The less that others know about your habits, the better. Here are some ways to stay safe on WhatsApp:
- Recognize and avoid common scams.
- Don’t give out your phone number.
- Use a VPN.
- Adjust your WhatsApp security and privacy settings.
- Never share your registration code or two-step verification PIN with others.
- Enable two-step verification.
- Use a device code for your mobile phone.
- Update your device and WhatsApp regularly — if no updates are available, you’ve got the latest security features installed already.
To recap, if someone asks for private information, block the sender immediately. WhatsApp requires only a phone number to sign up, so don’t give your number to people you don’t know. Hackers can use your number without your consent or knowledge. Using a device code that only you know makes it harder for others to access.
Is WhatsApp safer than texting?
Since WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, it may be safer than texting if you adjust the privacy settings to the most secure settings.
Is it safe to add strangers to my WhatsApp?
It is never safe to add strangers to your WhatsApp. Strangers could be hackers who want to steal your data.
Is WhatsApp safe for sending private photos?
WhatsApp is safe for sending private photos since it uses end-to-end encryption.
Can someone access your WhatsApp without you knowing?
If you’ve shared your account information or verification code with others, it is possible someone else can access your WhatsApp without you knowing. The good news is that messages are stored on your devices with end-to-end encryption. So even if someone else accesses your account, they cannot read your past messages.
As with any online activity or application, there are inherent risks to using WhatsApp. Still, it appears that WhatsApp has done a good job of keeping users safe, especially with the use of end-to-end encryption. If you combine that with some common online safety tips, like using a VPN and not oversharing personal data, we believe WhatsApp can be a fun, safe platform for messaging and calling.
Some of the best ways to stay safe online are deleting unsafe apps and changing weak passwords to something more secure. You should also use a good antivirus program to protect your devices from WhatsApp malware. By incorporating these tips, you can keep WhatsApp secure and enjoy all the features it has to offer.