Have you changed your number on your mobile? Anyone could access your WhatsApp


It is usually more common than might be expected: a promotion by a telephone operator may be too tempting to reject. To take advantage of it, on many occasions, we are invited to retire the old phone number and register one. Nothing out of the ordinary and these transitions, which, fortunately, are now very smooth. But in many occasions there is a rope that is loose and almost nobody remembers to tie it: WhatsApp. Migrating to a new phone number and registering the account on WhatsApp does not imply that the old line has been removed from the messaging application, and if our number is recycled , the new user can access all our conversations and contacts . And what is worse, communicate on our behalf.This scare was taken by blogger Joseph Cox, who when registering a new line and installing WhatsApp began to receive a bombardment of messages that included photos, links and a lot of text. This user had only activated the WhatsApp application in a number that, in theory (and in practice), was owned by him. What exactly was going wrong? In this case, and as it happens on many occasions, the operator, in the absence of new numbers given the high number of operating lines, reuses the old numbers that are used in new registrations.

WhatsApp before a security limbo

Ultimately, if a user changes to a new number and does not deactivate the WhatsApp account on the old one, the door is left wide open for the new recipient of the old number to access all their whastapps. The drama of this circumstance resides in the fact that this situation occurs by default: whoever installs WhatsApp on a recycled line, does not have to do anything else and the system recognizes him as the old owner, restoring communications. From EL PAÍS we have contacted WhatsApp without getting a response. A visit to its Questions and Answers section indicates that the courier service confirms this circumstance with absolute normality.”If the previous owner of the number did not delete his WhatsApp account, you and your contacts may be able to see the phone number on WhatsApp before you activate the new account”, we can read, “you may also see the profile picture and the info (sic) that belonged to that person ”. The messaging platform downplays this situation, stating that “there is nothing to worry about. This only means that the old account was not deleted and therefore there is old information in the system. ” WhatsApp denies in this section that the new user can receive messages from his predecessor, as Cox assures: “It does not mean that the owner of the old account has access to the WhatsApp account that you activate on your phone with your new phone number “Says the company.

The 45 days of grace

But all is not lost. WhatsApp reserves an ace up its sleeve with which it maintains, more or less, the privacy of the user who changes numbers: “After 45 days of inactivity, if an account is activated again on a new device,” they explain in their FAQ section (frequently asked questions), “we treat it as a new account with a recycled number. In this case, we delete the data from the old account, such as the profile photo and the Info. (Sic) ”. That is, if after 45 days without the WhatsApp account in question connecting and the service detects that it is activated in a new number, photo and information from the previous profile are deleted.Now, how long does it take an operator to reassign an old number to a new user? Industry sources report to this newspaper that “operators have an obligation to maintain a 30-day guard period. After this period of 30 days after a client unsubscribes his numbering, the operator can freely assign it to any other client “, that is, that there is a 15-day limbo in which a user could theoretically register a new line and access WhatsApp information from the previous user.

How to protect yourself?

Operators hope that the new General Telecommunications Law allows “OTT entities (software and platforms that use bandwidth) can be regulated within the telecommunications sector and can impose specific obligations on them for the use of their services.” But until this takes effect, the best medicine will be common sense and remember to cancel the services that for one reason or another we are going to stop using. “This problem is bad practice in the use of our digital life”, explains Francisco Arnau, Head of the security firm Akamai in Spain, “when we change houses, we leave it empty and that seems more than logical to us. However, when we talk about digital devices or our profiles in the applications we use, we don’t give it importance. ” In short, if for any reason you are going to abandon a line on which WhatsApp was used, it is essential to migrate the number or delete the account (both options can be carried out from the settings of the application itself) before concluding the process of migration. 

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