Jump to: Best VPNs for WhatsApp
WhatsApp is the world’s most popular messaging app with a global user base of 1 billion people as of 2017. The app, which was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion, has dominated the chat app market with its singular purpose, lack of advertisements, and commitment to privacy. Around the world, WhatsApp is used to keep up with friends and family, bargain with merchants, make restaurant reservations, conduct customer service, and connect like-minded groups of people among many other things.
WhatsApp features end-to-end encryption, which means all messages are encrypted on the sender’s device and remain encrypted until they arrive on the receiver’s device. Anyone who happens to intercept messages in transit–be it an ISP, hacker, government entity, or even Facebook–will not be able to decrypt their contents. WhatsApp uses the encryption suite developed by Whisper Systems, which makes the much lauded and privacy-focused Signal messaging app.
This level of privacy is excellent for users, but some governments and law enforcement agencies argue that it protects activists, journalists, dissidents, criminals, and terrorists who can use the app to secretly communicate. As a result, WhatsApp has been banned, either temporarily or permanently, in 13 countries according to Freedom House:
- Saudi Arabia
- The Gambia
In some countries, WhatsApp’s voice-calling (VoIP) feature is often blocked while the rest of the app is left open. VoIP allows users to make voice calls over the internet, similar to Skype, which is also blocked in some countries. WhatsApp voice calls are blocked in:
- United Arab Emirates
Telecom companies in several countries have lobbied their respective governments to restrict WhatsApp as well. Because WhatsApp serves as a substitute for traditional calls and SMS, it cuts into the profits of legacy telcos.
If you’re a WhatsApp user who lives in one of these countries or plan on visiting, you can bypass these restrictions by connecting to a VPN. Short for virtual private network, a VPN encrypts all of your device’s internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of your choosing. This prevents your ISP and government authorities from discerning the content or destination of your internet traffic, in this case messages and calls sent and received on WhatsApp. All you need to do is download the VPN provider’s app, connect to a country where WhatsApp isn’t blocked, and use WhatsApp as you normally would.
We’ve curated a list of the best VPNs for WhatsApp primarily based on the following criteria:
- Strong encryption suite
- No usage logs
- DNS leak protection
- Mobile apps available including Android and iPhone/iOS
Best VPNs for WhatsApp
ExpressVPN offers cutting-edge security at every stage, including 256-bit encryption and perfect forward secrecy. The company keeps no logs of your activity or source IP address. DNS leak protection is built in so your true location is never revealed to your ISP, and the company operates its own private DNS servers. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Linux (command-line). ExpressVPN is fast and servers are available in 94 countries. It’s also capable of unblocking streaming services that other VPNs can no longer access, including US Netflix and Hulu.
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Read our full ExpressVPN review.
NordVPN maintains a true zero logs policy and protects every connection with unbreakable encryption. For serious security buffs, there’s also the option to connect to a double VPN or Tor over VPN. By default, the app will route your DNS requests through NordVPN’s own DNS servers and prevent any DNS leaks that could otherwise give away your location. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. NordVPN gives you a whopping six simultaneous connections on a single subscription, so it’s great for a family, office, or group of roommates. Nord can also unblock streaming services like US Netflix and Hulu.
Read our full NordVPN review.
IPVanish keeps zero logs about what its users do online. The provider protects users with military-grade encryption and DNS leak protection, even on IPv6. Five simultaneous connections come with a single subscription. A wide range of blazing fast servers is available to choose from. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. The company owns all of its own servers, rather than renting them, which ensures maximum speed and reliability. IPVanish also tops our list as the best VPN for Kodi users.
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Read our full review of IPVanish.
VyprVPN has built its reputation around its ability to bypass authoritarian censorship systems in countries like China, so it’s no stranger to unblocking apps like WhatsApp. In addition to an already impressive encryption suite–256-bit AES paired with SHA256 authentication–customers can also avail of its proprietary Chameleon protocol to hide the fact that they are using a VPN at all. VyprVPN can also unblock some streaming services like US Netflix and Hulu. Speed shouldn’t be a problem for streaming with VyprVPN making our list of fast VPNs. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
Read our full VyprVPN review.
When it comes to range of servers, no one can compete with PureVPN’s global network. 256-bit encryption protects all of your data in transit, and the company doesn’t keep any traffic logs of user activity. DNS leak protection ensures no traffic escapes the VPN tunnel and web page requests are sent through the company’s private DNS servers. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
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Read our full review of PureVPN.
Avoid free VPNs
We recommend avoiding free VPNs commonly found on Google Play and the App Store. These apps often track and log what you do online, inject advertisements, and can even infect your device with malware. And if the police come knocking on their door asking for information on a specific user, they aren’t going to risk their business to save someone who uses their app for free.
Additionally, most free VPNs have a limited range of servers to choose from, limit available bandwidth, and cap data.
I’m connected to a VPN but WhatsApp is still blocked. What should I do?
One of three things is likely to be causing this problem.
The first is that your internet service provider or mobile carrier, on behalf of the government, has blocked the IP addresses of known VPN servers. If this is the case, you won’t be able to access anything online while using the VPN, not just WhatsApp.
If this happens to you, contact the customer support of your VPN provider and ask them which servers to use to unblock WhatsApp in your country. Most will have a range of servers you can specifically use to unblock Netflix that haven’t been blacklisted by authorities.
The second possible cause could be that you’re leaking DNS requests. DNS, or domain name system, is used to correlate a domain name with a web server IP address. For example, when you type comparitech.com into your URL bar, a DNS request is sent to look up which IP address this website has been assigned. That request gets sent to the nearest DNS server, which is normally operated by your ISP. Most government-led internet censorship is conducted at the ISP level.
A DNS leak occurs when the DNS request is sent outside of the VPN tunnel to your ISP instead of your VPN provider’s DNS servers. This reveals the real destination of your web traffic and the ISP blocks the connection accordingly.
To get around this, ensure your VPN offers DNS leak protection (all of the providers we recommended above do). You may need to enable it in the app settings if it’s not on by default. Additionally, you can try disabling IPv6 on your device.
Finally, your ISP could be blocking traffic traveling to or from specific ports used by WhatsApp. Your VPN app might support port forwarding, which will route traffic from WhatsApp through a different port. Consult the provider’s website or customer service.
Will a VPN patch the WhatsApp backdoor?
Short answer: no.
Long answer: First off, WhatsApp doesn’t have a backdoor so much as it has a minor vulnerability in its end-to-end encryption scheme.
Here’s how it works: when you send a message on WhatsApp, it is encrypted before it leaves your phone, sent through the internet, and never decrypted until it lands on the recipient’s phone. Only the recipient’s phone contains the key that can decrypt the message. Private keys are generated and exchanged between users before any messages are ever sent.
But if the recipient changes their phone, they no longer have the encryption key necessary to decrypt messages. This can result in messages that are never delivered. In a compromise of security in favor of convenience, WhatsApp implemented what many critics allege is a backdoor. The key exchange is renegotiated without the recipient’s knowledge, and the backlog of messages are re-sent. WhatsApp users can toggle a preference in their settings to let them know if the recipient has changed phones and the keys have been renegotiated, but this is not enabled by default.
The result is that if someone simply turns off their phone or is disconnected from the internet for any period of time, WhatsApp–and ergo Facebook–could fake the existence of a new phone and private key in order to read someone’s message history.
To do this, one would need WhatsApps explicit compliance and a specific target. This is not something that can be exploited through any sort of mass dragnet surveillance or by hackers without WhatsApp’s help. So for most people, it is not a concern. If you feel you are being targeted to such a degree, you can find more details on this issue and read up on available WhatsApp alternatives.
Back to our original question, a VPN will not protect you in any way from this vulnerability. The exploit would have to occur on WhatsApp’s servers, not on your internet connection or device.
Will a VPN protect me from being arrested for using WhatsApp?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: There have been several news reports from multiple countries about people being arrested for posting or sending illicit content on WhatsApp. This content is often labeled defamatory, libelous, explicit, or even contains information about planned coup d’etats.
Please realize, however, that the government did not hack WhatsApp to get this information, nor steal it in transit as it made its way across the internet, nor cooperate with WhatsApp to obtain the contents of someone’s WhatsApp messages. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption system protects against these sorts of snooping.
Instead, authorities obtained the information in one of the following two ways:
- Someone in a WhatsApp group or private chat tipped off the police
- The police seized the phone and, if necessary, coerced the owner to unlock it
That’s it. There’s no hacking going on here. A VPN won’t help you with snitches and mean cops.