Meta (formerly Facebook) has owned the messaging service WhatsApp since 2009. Unlike texting or making calls, WhatsApp is packed full of great features many of us can’t do without, such as free international calls via the internet and end-to-end encryption.
But if your WhatsApp account gets hacked, it can quickly turn your world upside down. Read on to learn how to tell if your WhatsApp account’s been hacked — and how to get your account back by following our step-by-step guide.
How can I tell if my WhatsApp account’s been hacked?
It’s quite likely that your WhatsApp account’s going to get hacked at some point. It is, after all, a highly popular messaging service, making it a prime target for hackers to launch their cyberattacks.
Let’s look at the potential tell-tale signs that your account’s been hacked.
Suddenly find yourself receiving ever more WhatsApp messages from people you don’t know or from former contacts who are no longer on your contacts list? This could be a giveaway that your WhatsApp account’s been hacked.
Another tip: Take a look at the messages you’ve sent. If, for instance, you see one (or more) message(s) and you’re certain it wasn’t you who sent it/them, your account may have been hacked.
If you receive an unusual number of notifications from WhatsApp about password changes or authentication requests, even though you know that you haven’t changed anything in your WhatsApp account, the alarm bells should be ringing.
You can no longer log in to your WhatsApp account
Have you ever received several messages from WhatsApp with an authentication code, but you ignored them? Trouble might be just around the corner because you only need such a code if you want to register a new device with WhatsApp — and if it wasn’t you, who is it who’s trying?
If you ignore such messages, you might find yourself being locked out of your WhatsApp account and unable to log in again — an obvious sign that your WhatsApp account’s been hacked.
Unknown devices are linked to your WhatsApp account
It’s easy to tell if other unknown devices are linked to your account. Here’s how (to keep things simple, the instructions in this post relate to Android devices — although you can also follow them for iOS):
- Open WhatsApp on your smartphone.
- On Android, tap the kebab icon (the three vertical dots) on the top right; on an iPhone, tap the gear icon in the bottom right corner. Now select Linked devices.
- If, in addition to the devices you use yourself, other devices are listed that you’ve no clue about, this is a sure sign that your account’s been hacked.
- Delete these links right away!
Follow these steps if your WhatsApp account’s been hacked
If you suspect that your WhatsApp account’s been hacked, you can change your password as an initial countermeasure. If you can’t do that or even log in, use the Forgot password feature to have a new password emailed to you. If that doesn’t work either, your only option may be to visit the WhatsApp help center or contact the service provider directly.
Either way, if your WhatsApp account’s been hacked, it’s best to delete your account immediately using your smartphone and disconnect everything connected to it, like WhatsApp Web.
Here’s our step-by-step guide to deleting your WhatsApp account if you suspect it’s been hacked:
- Open WhatsApp on your smartphone — not via your browser.
- Tap the Settings icon (top right on an Android smartphone; bottom right on an iPhone) and then Account.
- Select Delete my account, then enter your mobile number using the full international format.
- Now tap Delete my account. All your messaging history as well as your Google Drive/iCloud backup will be deleted and you’ll be removed from all WhatsApp groups.
Once you’ve done this, it’s essential you scan your devices fully to check for any malware — such as by using Avira Free Antivirus, which is available for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.
You should also tell your contacts, as hackers may well impersonate you in chats and groups.
How can I protect myself from future hacker attacks?
You can protect yourself from a hacker attack on your WhatsApp account. It may sound pretty obvious, but your first step should be to never leave your smartphone just lying around so anyone can get their hands on it. If a hacker gets hold of your smartphone, they can theoretically create another WhatsApp account very quickly, change the cell phone number for it, and authenticate themselves using the verification code or even install spyware. Once a hacker has managed to install spyware on your smartphone, they could also hack much more than just your WhatsApp account.
Besides this, updating your WhatsApp app can also help to increase your protection against a hacker attack, because such updates often also fix recently discovered security flaws.
Be wary of forwarded links
Forwarded messages with links in them can quickly turn out to be pure spam. Apparent prize notifications, dubious reminders, or amazingly cheap offers have no business being on a messenger service.
So be especially careful when you receive such messages via your WhatsApp account — even if you receive them from one of your contacts, a WhatsApp hacking attack might be lurking behind them.
Use two-factor authentication (2FA)
You’ve probably already heard about two-factor authentication as it’s recommended or even mandatory for many types of accounts, such as for online banking. Even for WhatsApp, which already includes end-to-end encryption of your chats, two-factor authentication offers a great level of additional protection against possible hacker attacks.
Here’s how to set up two-factor authentication for your WhatsApp account on Android (if you use an iPhone, you’ll find the Settings menu (gear icon) at the bottom right of the screen):
- Tap the kebab icon (the three vertical dots) menu to access the settings menu.
- In the window that appears, tap Account and then Two-step verification.
- Finally, tap Enable to turn on two-factor authentication.
Keep an eye on log ins and log outs
Regardless of whether you use the desktop and/or mobile version of WhatsApp, always log out as soon as you stop using WhatsApp to improve your WhatsApp account’s protection against hacking. This will also allow you to keep your log ins and log outs in better check.
Since WhatsApp notifies you the instant someone logs in to your WhatsApp account, this means that if it wasn’t you then there’s a good chance your account’s been hacked.
Use a lock app to take your WhatsApp account’s protection to a new level
Although WhatsApp currently doesn’t have a lock feature, you can use a reputable third-party lock app to boost your account’s protection.
How can cybercriminals hack your WhatsApp account?
In May 2019 WhatsApp discovered a system vulnerability thanks to which hackers could access not only a user’s profile but their entire phone too. Fortunately, the developers responded with an update that eliminated this vulnerability and made WhatsApp more secure to use.
Despite the constant stream of security updates, cybercriminals can hack your WhatsApp account and, among other things, end friendships, spread fake news, scrounge money, distribute offensive images, or flood WhatsApp groups with hate speech — all supposedly in your name. After all, the recipients of the messages won’t have a clue that they’re not from you, but from a hacker.
Your WhatsApp account could be hacked via WhatsHack
Performing what’s known as a WhatsHack attack might be a bit more involved, but a hacker with the right motivation could definitely pull it off.
As you know, WhatsApp messages are encrypted automatically. This means a motivated hacker must first reconstruct the algorithm so that they can decrypt the data. To do this, they need to tap into the various information exchanged between the app and the browser version of the messenger — something that experts unanimously agree is entirely possible.
Once that’s done, all the parameters that are sent back and forth can be viewed, allowing cybercriminals to find security flaws and modify content.
Spyware apps can be used in hacking attacks on WhatsApp accounts
We needn’t remind you that malware of any kind is dangerous. This can include spyware that’s used to snoop on and record what you get up to on the internet on your computer and/or smartphone without your knowledge or consent.
With the right antivirus program, like Avira Free Antivirus, you can banish the risk of a spyware attack and also better protect your WhatsApp account in the process. That’s because this solution, which Avira — a pioneer in free online security — keeps on making better and better, can help you detect a wide range of malware on your internet-enabled devices by scanning it regularly.
Third-party data leaks
WhatsApp is restrictive when it comes to the use of third-party apps, and it won’t hold back from deleting your account if you use unauthorized apps.
Nevertheless, even third-party apps accepted by WhatsApp, which you might want to use for your messaging, can pose a risk because they’re often quite lax when it comes to security — which is why you should be especially careful.
The upshot is that if you use unsecured third-party apps, you may endanger not only your own online security but that of your contacts too.
How can I tell who hacked my WhatsApp account?
Although you can request account information via the WhatsApp help center, these reports — which you’ll receive within three days of the request — don’t contain any information about who’s logged in to your WhatsApp account or hacked it.
You can, however, go to Linked devices (check out our instructions above) to see if there are any signs that your account may have been hacked. If you see an unknown device listed, you can almost say for sure that someone’s hacked your WhatsApp account.
Can hackers see deleted messages on WhatsApp?
Because WhatsApp includes end-to-end encryption and messages are stored on your device, it’s not that easy to access your account from another device and read your previously deleted chats.
However, if someone who has no business using your smartphone does get their hands on it, it’s quite possible that they’ll get hold of your backups. If this person provides your mobile number to restore your messaging history, you’ll be text a verification code — which is all this unauthorized person needs to enter on their smartphone to download a complete backup of your history. That said, once you log in to your WhatsApp account again yourself, the other person will get logged out — stopping them in their tracks.