You heard that Whatsapp introduced a new function able to encrypt messages, but you don’t know how to install it on your phone? Don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything so complicated.
Even better, you don’t have to do nothing at all! If you are using a fairly recent Whatsapp version, encryption is enabled by default, so each conversation is automatically protected from the gaze of prying eyes.

Whatsapp uses an end-to-end encryption function, this means that messages are protected by “padlocks” even before being sent to the service server, and they can be seen only by those who hold the right keys to decrypt: the senders and receivers. All the others, including the service server and the “spies”, can’t access messages and visualize their contents. The best thing ever is that, to take advantage of Whatsapp encryption, you don’t need to do any effort: messages are encrypted and decrypted automatically by the application itself, so there’s no need by the user to do anything, provided that he’s using a fairly recent version of Whatsapp.

The encryption is applied to all forms of communication supported by WhatsApp: messages, group chat, photos, videos, calls, etc… and it runs on all most used operating systems such as Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

There is also a tool to find out if a particular chat is encrypted or not: if you want I’ll explain you how to use it and, if necessary, how to encrypt WhatsApp if some conversations are not protected with end-to-end encryption.

I assure you that it’s really easy.

VERIFY WHATSAPP ENCRYPTION

To find out if your conversations are protected by end-to-end encryption, open Whatsapp first, then enter in “Chat” section and select the conversation you are interested in.

Now, push on the name of the person standing on the top of the screen (or the title of the group if you selected a group chat) and check what it’s written under “Encryption”. If your conversation is already protected by end-to-end encryption you’ll find this text:  “Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption”

In some cases, a notice related to encryption of messages appears directly inside the chat. If between the messages of the chat you find a yellow square with this inscription inside “Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption” the chat is already encrypted.

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Another way to check if cryptography is activated in Whatsapp, is to compare the identification code of the chat with the one displayed on the smartphone of your interlocutor.
To complete this “verification test” both the users of the chat have to be physically close to each other.
Here you find all the steps needed:

  • Open Whatapp and select the chat for which you are checking the presence of encryption. This operation has to be done by both users.
  • Click the name of the interlocutor that you find at the top of the screen. Also this operation has to be done by both users
  • Click on “Encryption”, always on both the smartphone.

Now you can compare the code number that appears on the screen of both the smartphone or, if preferred, you can scan the QR code displayed on one of the two phone, using the other terminal. (you just need to tap on the button “Scan code” at the bottom of the page).

If the code number is the same for both the smartphone or, after making the QR scan, it appears a white tic in a green circle, it means encryption is activated and the messages can’t be read from anyone but the sender and receiver.

If this test is not successful, one of the interlocutor is using and old version of Whatsapp so he can’t use end-to-end encryption.

ADD ENCRYPTION IN WHATSAPP

If this verification is unsuccessful, you can easily add encryption just installing the latest version of Whatsapp.
If you don’t know how to do it, here is explained the procedure step by step:

If you use an Android smartphone, open Play Store  (the shopping bag icon with the symbol ▶ in the middle) push on the button placed at the top left and select “My Apps and games” from the bar that appears sideways. At this point, look for the icon Whatsapp in the section Installed. Once selected, push the button Update first and then click Agree to install the latest version of the app on your smartphone.

If you use an iPhone, open App Store (the blu icon with the letter “A” in the centre), select Updates at the bottom right, then look for “Whatsapp” icon and click Update. 

If you use a Window Phone instead, open Windows Phone Marketplace (the shopping bag icon with the Windows flag in it), push the (…) button at the bottom right of the page and select Settings from the menu that appears. From the screen that opens, click on look for updates and wait till the apps installed on your phone are updated.

SO WHATSAPP IS 100% SAFE?

No. Whatsapp is really safe, you can keep use it without any worries, but you have to know that is not safe at 100% and it doesn’t protect all the information in the same way.

Encryption technology used by Whatsapp (TextSecure) is really reliable, but being Whatsapp a commercial and closed source product, we need to take in consideration some potential critical issues.

First of all, Whatsapp keeps in memory all the user contacts and the so-called metadata, that are all the information related of “who contacted who” and when he did it.
What is not kept in memory is the content of the chat that, how I said before, is encrypted and it can be seen only by the sender and the receiver of the chat.
The information gathered by Whatsapp should not be used for commercial purpose, but the company reserves the right to provide it to authorities and government agency if required. Other information, such as the frequency you use Whatsapp, the telephone operator and other “technical” information on the smartphone could end up on Facebook database. The company which, as you probably know, acquired Whatsapp in 2014.

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In this moment I’m writing, the data transition from WhatsApp to Facebook is blocked, but we can’t know that sooner or later it can start again. You have to pay attention on the supplementary privacy notices displayed by WhatsApp: if they appear, read carefully their content and value whether or not accept the changes in the way  your personal data are processed. Another aspect that needs to be considered, always talking about privacy, is the fact that WhatsApp is a closed source application; this means that it is not possible to thoroughly analyze the source code and know, for example, whether there are problems in the implementation of encryption or other problems that could compromise the privacy of our data. 

If you particularly care about your privacy, try Signal: it is a messaging app for Android and iOS that uses the same end-to-end encryption technique used by WhatsApp but it is open source and is not for commercial purposes, so it is much more safe, talking about privacy.  Just think that the “sponsor” is Edward Snowden, the main architect of the DataGate, through which many confidential documents of the US government have been published. Turning to Signal you’ll also need to convince your friends to use this app, but I think it’s worth it!

Another alternative to WhatsApp is Telegram, but talking about privacy is not so much better than WhatsApp. By default, Telegram uses end-to-end encryption only in secret chat (not in normal chat) and its encryption system is considered less reliable than the WhatsApp one.

In conclusion, I want to tell you that if you have activated the option backup of your Whatsapp chat on the cloud (more precisely on Google Drive if you use an Android and on iCloud if you have an iPhone) of the copies of all your chat, over than your smartphone, they will be saved also on Google and Apple server, where they could be saved not using an encryption function or your chat could be read by the authority and the government if they require it.

So, Whatsapp is safe, you can use it without any worries, but remember that is a product with commercial purpose and your data -except the content of your conversation- is the price you pay for using a free service.