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WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps that allow us to stay connected with each other. But there has been some recent news about changes in the company's privacy policies. This led to many people using alternative methods of communication.
Although WhatsApp's safety and privacy have gradually improved with time, the question that still remains is whether or not Whatsapp is safe to use.
WhatsApp offers safe data transfer due to its end-to-end encryption for text messages, voice messages, voice calls, video calls, and file sharing.
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Ever since WhatsApp announced its data sharing policy with Facebook, people have been hesitant to use the app. So, is WhatsApp safe to use for texting? Let’s find out.
Your data, including text messages, is still encrypted. So, it will only remain private to you and the person the message is sent to. Even WhatsApp cannot access this information as the encryption key is stored in the user device. Your data cannot be unlocked without the key, and WhatsApp implicitly uses a key stored in your device to encrypt your every message. The company only stores an unsent message in its servers but deletes it once it is successfully sent.
“There are absolutely no independent, verifiable, authoritative audits that show that the WhatsApp app is secure, so in fact, we see it as not secure,” said Alex Walker of Apps UK. “In peer to peer encryption even though there are relay servers in between to forward your messages to your friends mobile, they can’t decrypt the data. So whatever it is that you want to share with anyone will safely reach them without having it tampered,” he added.
WhatsApp uses AES256 encryption, which is impossible to decrypt. The 256-bit key size in AES would theoretically take billions of years to break using the power offered by modern computing technology.
That being said, the problem comes with the metadata. It provides information that is related to your data (e.g., text messages, voice messages, voice calls). This information includes the who, why, and where of your texts. It could also provide information about the device that you used.
Although WhatsApp does collect data from you, it is almost negligible as compared to other apps like Snapchat or Facebook. So, WhatsApp is not the biggest violator of privacy.
All three apps allow individuals to delete messages. However, messages in WhatsApp are encrypted, while that is not the case with Instagram or Facebook. This feature makes WhatsApp the safest option to use, especially if privacy is one of your biggest concerns.
Just like WhatsApp messages, video calls made through the app are also encrypted and are thus safe (safer than other platforms at least). Video calls are only initiated after WhatsApp internally shares an encoded message between the call participants as a handshake.
It is important to trust the person you have a video call with. Anyone can screen record your conversation and reveal it to the public. In addition to that, devices infected with malware can capture the audio and video content by monitoring the device's screen, speakers, camera, and microphone.
WhatsApp calls are encrypted; thus they are secure. WhatsApp does offer a web app, but to use it, you need to make a connection with your device. That is because WhatsApp does not store your data in the cloud.
Although texts, calls, and other communications made through Telegram are encrypted, it stores your data in the cloud. They do it so that your information can be accessed through multiple devices. Even when your web or phone app is inaccessible.
Keeping these factors in mind, WhatsApp is the safest platform to have video calls with your loved ones.
To make WhatsApp even safer to use, ensure that you stop malicious content from infecting your phone. This can be done by not opening links and unknown attachments.
Disabling the option to automatically save images can also be beneficial. In this way, you can stop any unknown file from accessing your phone’s content.
Enable “Show Security Notifications” in your WhatsApp settings. This will help you know if you are talking to an imposter or not. Hiding the profile picture from those who are not on our contact list can also prove to be helpful against social engineering attacks. One must also be careful when adding strangers as friends.
Moreover, you can also enable two-factor authentication for extra security. The first level in this is biometric authentication. In the second level, you receive a one-time password on your registered mobile number.
It is also important to log out of the WhatsApp web, especially if you are logged in on a public computer. Failure to do so gives other users access to your account. This can result in the misuse of confidential information. It is also a good thing to secure your device with antivirus software as it amps up your device’s security.
Most WhatsApp updates have the latest security features. These features protect the app from hackers. So, it is helpful to keep your WhatsApp updated to stay safe.
We should also ask, “How is WhatsApp Not Safe?”.
WhatsApp is not safe because despite being end-to-end encrypted, it does ask for your contacts. This puts your personal information at risk. The company also tracks the amount of time you spend using the app and shares it with Facebook.
Moreover, there are always malware threats that one needs to be aware of. There is another crack in WhatsApp privacy - messages that were backed up to Google Drive were not encrypted. It was only in September this year that WhatsApp rolled an update to support encrypted backups, so make sure to update it.
In August 2019, a security firm Check Point found a security bug in WhatsApp for Android. The security bug could let a hacker crash the messaging app in a group chat and make the users use it further only after reinstalling. WhatsApp patched the issue in September with version 2.19.58.
Even though WhatsApp is safe, it is not invulnerable to hackers. So, remember that in this tech-savvy world, anything is possible. There are chances for your information to be leaked even with the safest of apps.
There is one special case highlighted by Sean O'Brien of Yale Privacy Lab, that conversations are forwarded to moderators if someone “reports” you. This means that your conversation can be forwarded to Facebook without your review and is clearly done so unencrypted. For people in group conversations, this is a very real threat.
So, is WhatsApp safe to use? Yes! Despite the few concerns that users may have with WhatsApp, it is safe to use. Its privacy settings are way better than Facebook or Instagram. With recent updates, it also allows an individual to delete a message after it is sent.
Disappearing messages allows a self-destruction timer that deletes conversations after seven days. You can send “view once” images that are deleted after being viewed one time. WhatsApp has many users so the company has to maintain good security measures, which it does.
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