WhatsApp Encryption: What It Is and How to Use It

How to Keep Your Messages Secure

There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about privacy these days. The good news is WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption to keep messages and phone calls safe and secure.

Version Note: Tested on Android 10,9 and iOS 13,12 with WhatsApp versions 2.20.27 /2.20.21, respectively. 

WhatsApp End-to-End Encryption Explained

According to the WhatsApp FAQs page, “When end-to-end encrypted, your messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents, status updates, and calls are secured from falling into the wrong hands.” Only you and the person you are connecting with can read texts, view documents, or hear your voice. Not even WhatsApp can listen in. With end-to-end encryption, both sides have a lock and key built into the software, which locks and unlocks simultaneously on both ends and keeps prying eyes out. 

Someone logging into WhatsApp on their phone.
@dzaqiakbar via Twenty20 

WhatsApp claims that every single chat has a unique lock and key to keep things safe. You don’t need any specialized hardware or software, and you don’t have to turn anything on, it is built right in. 

However, they do provide one caveat. When connecting with a business using end-to-end encryption, anyone within that business may be able to share the connection and see messages. Additionally, if the business contracts its communications to another company, that vendor may be able to see, store and access messages sent through their system. How this is handled depends on the company’s own privacy policy. 

How WhatsApp End-to-End Encryption Works

WhatsApp uses Signal Protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems. This type of encryption uses a lock and key at both ends, so only the two connected individuals can access the data. How does it work?

When someone opens WhatsApp, a public and private key are generated. All of this takes place behind the scenes on your phone. The private key stays stored in the WhatsApp data library, and the public key is sent along with the message to the recipient. The public key encrypts the message before it reaches its intended target. On the other end, when the person receives the message, their private key unlocks it. No third-party can intercept these messages because the keys are stored within the phone itself. Even if a hacker were to breach the connection, they would not have the keys to unlock it. 

How to Use WhatsApp End-to-End Encryption 

To use WhatsApp end-to-end encryption, install WhatsApp, and start using it. There are no special settings you need to worry about, and you don’t need to take any action. However, if during a text message session, you want to confirm that your connection is end-to-end encrypted:

  1. Open the chat.

  2. Tap the name of the person you are connected with to open the Contact Info screen.

  3. Tap Encryption to view the QR code and 60-digit number.

  4. If you are physically near the person, you can compare 60-digit codes to make sure they match. Or you can scan the QR code. If secure, you will see a green checkmark. Now you can be assured that no one is listening in on your calls or messages.

  5. If you and the other person are not near each other, you can share the 60-digit code to be sure they match. To do this, tap the Share button from the Verify Security Code screen, and then you can send it via SMS or email.

    WhatsApp end-to-end encryption on Android.