There’s a silent danger lurking around that hardly any WhatsApp user knows about. All it takes is a momentary lapse in concentration, and others can easily snoop on all your WhatsApp chats — all without any hacking knowledge. Read on to discover just how they do this and what you can do to protect yourself against it — as well as how to generally boost the protection of your online privacy with Avira Antivirus Security for Android and Avira Mobile Security for iOS
The stats are staggering: The world truly does chat with WhatsApp. Billions of us around the world use the messaging service every day to share everything from intimate details about our personal lives to business secrets. And they do so worry-free, as WhatsApp offers secure end-to-end encryption — a feature that virtually rules out hackers getting their hands on their user data. Yet despite this protection, there’s a silent danger lurking around that hardly any smartphone user knows about. Let your concentration slip for just a moment, and others can easily snoop on all your WhatsApp chats — all without any hacking knowledge. There are numerous ways hackers can do this:
- Snoop on WhatsApp using a spy app
- Spy on WhatsApp using the official desktop chat program
- Spy on WhatsApp using the official desktop chat program
Let’s get down to details.
1. Snoop on WhatsApp using a spy app
An increasing number of commercial spy apps are popping up online. Once installed, any amateur who wants to know what you’re up to on your smartphone can do just that — including viewing entire WhatsApp chat histories. They can even gain access to incoming, outgoing, or even missed calls, your calendar, photos, locations, and much more — all beautifully presented and accessible online. The demand for such services, also known as stalkerware, is astonishingly strong. Users tend to be jealous spouses or anxious parents, with many choosing the popular mSpy app.
There are various ways to activate the service. On iPhones it’s particularly easy, as all the spy needs is the victim’s Apple ID and password. Both of these are quite easy to get hold of – especially within the circle of family and friends. Equipped with these login credentials, the snoop can then access iCloud backups, which are usually created daily via the service’s online dashboard. Things are much more complicated when using mSpy with Android smartphones. With these devices, direct smartphone access is required for the spy to install the mSpy app which then transmits the data to the mSpy service. But there are two snags: First, the snoop needs to know the victim’s Google password; second, the whole thing only works on rooted Android devices (meaning the user has access to deeper system functions, which can only be achieved with a lot of fiddling around). In addition, mSpy comes with a hefty subscription price of 60 euros a month or at least 170 euros annually. It’s cheaper than hiring a private investigator I guess, but still expensive.
Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid being snooped on. These include, keeping an eye on your smartphone and never share your unlock code or passwords with others. If you do, anyone in your circle can easily keep tabs on your messages. Also be wary of who you lend your smartphone to, and never just leave it lying around where others can access it.
The Avira Antivirus Security app for Android has an AppLock feature to PIN protect not only WhatsApp but also other sensitive apps and app groups from snoops. You can then safely hand over your smartphone without the risk of anyone seeing things they ought not to be looking at.
2. Exploiting WhatsApp Web as a spying tool
There’s another much easier way, that’s also free, for prying eyes to snoop on your WhatsApp activity. They can simply use WhatsApp Web, as long as the intended victim lives in the same home as the snoop. To get going with spying, the snoop just needs to get hold of the target’s smartphone for long enough — suddenly, “can I borrow your phone quickly?” isn’t as harmless as it sounds. The snoop then just needs to use the WhatsApp app on the victim’s smartphone to take a photo of the WhatsApp QR code displayed on a computer screen. Once that’s done, the snoop can then view the victim’s entire chat history on the PC and comb through it at leisure. The flow of juicy details continues, since the WhatsApp chat history gets updated each time the victim’s smartphone connects to the home Wi-Fi network.
Thankfully, it’s just as easy to discover if you’re being spied on as it is for the snoop to spy on you. In the mobile WhatsApp app, go to Settings and take a look at the area called WhatsApp Web/Desktop. Here you can see when the service was last active. So, if you’ve never connected WhatsApp to your PC, or you see entries that aren’t from your own activity, don’t waste time and hit the Log out from all devices button to disconnect from the sinister connections.
3. The MAC spoofing hacker method
With this hacking method, the WhatsApp snoop pretends to have the target’s smartphone by using a special app to swap their own device’s MAC address with the victim’s. While it sounds complicated, the whole thing is relatively simple to do when carried out within the close circle of family or friends. The first and more difficult hurdle is that the snoop needs to have access to the victim’s smartphone for long enough to discover its MAC address located in the device settings. The snoop then just needs to plant the captured MAC address into their own smartphone using a spoofing app. Now comes the second hurdle: Once WhatsApp is installed on the snoop’s smartphone, they’ll need to enter the victim’s phone number and get hold of the required verification code that gets texted to the victim’s smartphone. Once set up, they can keep tabs on the victim’s WhatsApp messages and write messages posing as the victim.
To avoid being spoofed, basically follow the same steps like for spy apps. Never leave your smartphone out of sight and never give your unlock code or passwords to anyone.
Steps to avoid being spied on
So, now you know some pretty simple methods that exist that allow someone to spy on your WhatsApp activities. Luckily, there are some easy steps you can take to prevent that from happening. First, never leave your smartphone out of sight or lying around where others can access it. Second, it’s a good idea to use an unlock code or password, which you should never share with anyone. Lastly, be wary of who you lend your smartphone to.
With the free smartphone app Avira Antivirus Security for Android, you can PIN protect selected apps or app groups as well as check which apps can access which features, data, and information and may have critical access permissions. You can also block spyware and other malware. In addition to virus protection and a VPN, the app offers many other features for greater smartphone security and performance. The iOS app Avira Mobile Security also includes a VPN for greater online privacy and various other handy features.
Punishable with significant fines
Snooping on WhatsApp messages is morally wrong and also a big no-no in the eyes of the law. Without the victim’s consent, it’s strictly prohibited to intercept someone’s communications. In Germany, for instance, “Anyone who gets caught risks getting punished under section 202b of Germany’s Criminal Code for unauthorized interception of data at the very least. They could even face a prison sentence of up to two years,” warns media attorney Christian Solmecke. It’s not without good reason that the developers market the spy apps as parental control apps for anxious helicopter parents. After all, their own offspring don’t need to be told they’re being spied on.