Keeping kids safe on WhatsApp, a targeted platform for hackers and cyberbullying messages

Keeping kids safe on WhatsApp, a targeted platform for hackers and cyberbullying messages

A disturbing cyberbullying ‘game’ called the Momo challenge is spreading around the world via WhatsApp and online platforms, leaving young people vulnerable to its violent messages. As chat rooms and messaging apps become increasingly available to young people – and become targeted platforms for hackers – we break down how to stay safe on WhatsApp. 

  • Know the rules: Ensure your kids are old enough to join WhatsApp by knowing the rules. Users in the EEA and EU must be at least 16 years old to join, while users elsewhere must be at least 13 years old.
  • Update your privacy settings: Control who can see your personal information such as your last seen, profile photo, about section, status and live location.  You can choose between the options: ‘everyone’, ‘my contacts’ or ‘nobody’.

To update your settings, go to settings > account > privacy

  • Enable two-step verification: For added security, enable two-step verification for your account. This will require a six-digit code or email address to be entered when verifying or registering your phone number with WhatsApp, meaning it makes it that much more difficult for others to do so. Note: WhatsApp highly recommends that users opt for using an email address as opposed to a pin number.

To enable this setting, click settings > account > two-step verification > enable

  • Don’t be afraid to block: It is important for both young people and adults to feel confident blocking or reporting contacts that make them feel uncomfortable. Empowering your child to understand they have the right to not speak with someone can help keep out unwanted communication.

To block or report a contact, click on contact name > report/block

  • Turn on security notifications: WhatsApp allows you to receive notifications when security codes change, helping you keep updated on any changes to your account.

To do this, click settings > account > security > enable security notifications

  • Enable touch ID and Face ID: Enabling the touch ID and face ID features prevents others from taking your phone and accessing your account, keeping your communication safe.

To enable this, click settings > privacy > screen lock > require touch ID

  • Don’t ignore a suspicious link indicator: Many links you receive from a contact may look normal, however can often have hidden characters at the end of the URL that can redirect you to a malicious site. WhatsApp uses technology to recognise if links may be potentially dangerous and will display a suspicious link indicator on the message. If you see this warning symbol, don’t click on the link.
  • Beware suspicious messages: It is possible to receive hoax messages, spam, or phishing messages from hackers who are able to get ahold of your number. These messages often ask the user to send personal information, make a payment, or collect a reward. As we have seen with recent viral cyberbullying challenges, many hackers also use pressure or threats to get the user to do something. Be sure to disregard, delete and report these messages, particularly if they are dangerous or inappropriate.
  • Verify end-to-end encryption: WhatsApp automatically provides end-to-end encryption for each and every message. However, you can verify the encryption by doing the following:
    • Tap on the contact’s name you are chatting with
    • Press ‘encryption’
    • A QR code and 60-digit number unique to each chat will appear. Ask your contact to scan your QR code, or alternatively you can scan theirs. This will verify that your messages and calls are end-to-end encrypted.
  • Beware what you share: Oftentimes, hackers will aim to get users to forward on their malicious content. WhatsApp warns that users should never forward on this kind of material, and should instead disregard and delete it.
  • Keep track of your kids’ online activity: Having an open dialogue with your kids about staying safe on messaging apps and chat rooms is essential to ensure they know how to navigate the online space safely. To read more about how to help children stay safe online, check out the UK Safer Internet Centre and NSPCC.

For more information on how you can keep safe on WhatsApp, visit the official WhatsApp security page.