Explainer: What could the Whatsapp hack do and has anyone read my messages?

As unsettling as this incident is, the risk to what we could call an average user here is considered to be very small

Have any of my messages or photos been read or seen?

Almost certainly not. This is a targeted piece of attack software that has to be aimed specifically at someone by someone.

Then why do I have to update my WhatsApp app?

Because if one hacker can get in this way, another might be able to, too.

What exactly could the hack do?

It could get in and wipe content throughout your phone or steal it.

Is there anything I might typically be doing in WhatsApp that might attract or trigger it?

No. Whoever has it targets you for a specific reason. It’s not like a bogus link you tap.

I thought WhatsApp was encrypted – how could this happen?

Facebook (which owns WhatsApp) isn’t saying. But the simplicity and effectiveness of this hacking technique is quite frightening. It is triggered when the attacker makes a voice call to your WhatsApp number. You don’t even have to answer it for the hack to work. This will somewhat damage the impression given that encryption is a bullet-proof standard for your security. It’s now clear there are effective workarounds.

Does this mean encryption is just a bunch of hot air?

No, not at all. It just means that this particular attack found a weakness in WhatsApp’s way of putting its system together.

Is WhatsApp dangerous to use now?

As unsettling as this incident is, the risk to what we could call an average user here is considered to be very small. However, it is a wake-up call to possible vulnerabilities our modern communications apps may have.

How do I update WhatsApp?

If you’re an iPhone user, go into the App Store and search for WhatsApp. Tap ‘update’.

If you have an Android (Samsung, Huawei, Sony) smartphone, go to the Play app store and do the same.

Is there any alternative message service with a better chance of not being hacked?

There are some communication apps which have most of the features of WhatsApp but which are considered more private and lower risk of being hacked.

Signal (free from the App Store or Play Store) is one that many people recommend. It makes a point of not saving much of your data. It can be used to make calls, too. Telegram is used by some, but isn’t as highly rated. However, while these might work for those engaging mostly in one-to-one conversations, it’s hard to see sports clubs, schools, and other community groups switching over from WhatsApp so easily.


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