These WhatsApp settings could make your phone vulnerable to hackers - how to turn them off

WhatsApp is one of the biggest messaging apps in the world, with around 1.6 billion users accessing it on a monthly basis. One of the app’s biggest draws is the data protection it offers - WhatsApp itself even says, “Privacy and security is in our DNA.”

However, there are a number of settings that many users have unwittingly enabled on their devices which could make them vulnerable to cyber attacks or being hacked.

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These are the settings that you should be concerned about - and how to disable them.

Auto downloading media files

For many of us, any video and images files that are sent to us via WhatsApp are automatically downloaded into our device’s camera roll. While you might not realise it at first, video and image files can be deceptively dangerous.

In September, researchers at Check Point (a cyber threat intelligence company) revealed how one maliciously crafted image file could hijack your Instagram account.

Talking to Forbes, Ekram Ahmen, from Check Point, said, “Think twice before you save photos onto your device.

“They can be a Trojan horse for hackers to invade your phone. We’ve demonstrated this with Instagram, but the vulnerability can likely be found in other applications.”

You can turn off automatic downloads by going to your device settings, then selecting storage and data. From there you should see a section called ‘Media Auto-Download.’

Under Media Auto-Download, there should be three options:

When using mobile dataWhen connected on WiFiWhen roaming

Go through all three options and turn them off to completely disable auto downloading.

WhatsApp iCloud backup

If you get a new phone and want to move your WhatsApp account from the old device to the new one, you’ll be directed to use WhatsApp’s iCloud backup option, in order to transfer things like your message history, media and settings over.

However, these backups are not protected by WhatsApp’s end to end encryption, which opens itself up to a serious privacy and security vulnerability.

With these backups no longer encrypted, this could enable cyber attackers to access your chats and files.

Disappearing messages

WhatsApp has released a new feature, called disappearing messages, which does essentially what it says on the tin - certain messages can be scheduled to disappear after a set amount of time.

While this new setting isn’t inherently dangerous, you do have to be careful with what you send if you plan on sending any sensitive materials, as there are many ways for a disappearing message to be saved.

If a user doesn’t open WhatsApp in the seven day period, the message will still disappear. However, the preview of the message may continue to be displayed in notifications until WhatsApp is opened.

When you reply to a message, the initial message that you are replying to is quoted. Therefore, if you reply to a disappearing message, the quoted text could still remain in the chat after seven days.

If a disappearing message is forwarded to a chat with the disappearing message option turned off, the message won’t disappear in the chat it’s been forwarded into.

If a user creates a backup of the chat before the message disappears, the disappearing message will be included in the backup. Disappearing messages will be deleted when a user restores from a backup.

If disappearing messages are turned on, media sent in the chat will disappear, but will be saved on the recipient's device if auto download is on, which, again, is something you should be wary about.