The internet world can be a dangerous place. It’s not only full of cybercriminals, but also advertisers, large corporations, and all kinds of people trying to invade your privacy. WhatsApp (which is ironically owned by Facebook) has one of the best reputations for security since it integrated end-to-end encryption into its platform back in 2016.
But what does that mean? And how can you tell whether your messages are encrypted or not? Find out everything you need to know here.
What does WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption mean?
Encryption is the process of turning your data into a complex code. To decrypt it, you must have the right access key. With WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption, the idea that only you and the intended recipient can read the messages.
There is no way for anybody to intercept the messages between you and the person you sent them to. Even Whatsapp can’t see these messages.
For additional protection, each message you send has a unique lock and key that only you two (or however many people are in the chat) have access to.
What’s really cool about WhatsApp, unlike other apps, is that you don’t have to enable any special features or enter a secret chat like you have to do with other chat apps. All of this is done by default for you.
Things to be aware of
Just because your messages are encrypted doesn’t mean you’re 100% safe. The recipient can still screenshot your messages, forward them to someone else, or even go old school and print them out.
Likewise, WhatsApp still logs the metadata of each chat. This means that while they may not know the contents of the message, they do have a record of who was talking to who, their IP address, and information about their phones.
For these reasons, you still may need to take a few extra steps to take full care of your privacy, which will be discussed further.
How to make sure end-to-end encryption all throughout your communication over WhatsApp
If you can’t just take WhatsApp’s word for it that your messages are encrypted, you can verify yourself through this process.
First, open any chat and tap the name of the contact. Their contact info screen will pop up. Then, tap encryption, and you’ll see a QR code along with a 60-digit number.
If you’re right next to that contact, you can either scan the QR code on each other’s screens or compare the 60-digit number. If you scan the code and it is the same for your contact, a green checkmark will pop up onscreen. With this match, you can be certain nobody is intercepting your communications.
Don’t panic if the codes don’t match. There’s a good chance you’re scanning the code of a different contact phone number. Sometimes if a contact has reinstalled WhatsApp or updated their phone, you may want to refresh the code, which you can do by sending them a message and scanning the code.
Also, there’s an old-school way to check it. If you’re not near your contact, you can write down the 60-digit code, send it to them, and make sure it matches.
Improve privacy and security on your phone
It really seems that WhatsApp does a pretty good job of protecting user privacy. But it isn’t’ the best out there. If you want to go even further, check out apps like Telegram and Signal.
Telegram adds features like self-destructing messages and message deletion. But to get end-to-end encryption, you will have to enter a secret chat room.
Signal is the king of privacy. Whatsapp, in fact, uses Signal’s encryption protocols for its service. And Signal never logs any of its users’ metadata.
In addition to using apps like Signal and Telegram, it’s always good to use a VPN while online. VPNs or virtual private networks both anonymize and encrypt your internet connection, greatly minimizing the risk of the man-in-the-middle and other types of intercept attacks.
This is particularly helpful when using WhatsApp. Remember that, even though it doesn’t know the contents of your message, it does collect IP addresses.
Further, VPNs are even more useful for everything else you do online, like connecting to social media, sending emails, and accessing your bank accounts.
Overall, WhatsApp may not be the most secure messaging platform, but it’s way ahead of such options as Facebook Messenger. Combined with a VPN, it’s about as private and secure as you get in the online world. And in our world of constant hacks, data breaches, and other intrusions, that’s pretty amazing.