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Researchers Reveal Vulnerabilities that Allowed Hackers to Manipulate Images on WhatsApp and Telegram

WhatsApp saves files to external storage automatically, while Telegram does so when the "Save to Gallery" feature is enabled

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Hackers, Images, Whatsapp
The security flaw, dubbed "Media File Jacking", affected WhatsApp for Android by default. Pixabay

If you thought instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram that provide end-to-end encryption give you rock-solid security, think again. Researchers from cyber-security firm Symantec on Monday revealed vulnerabilities that allowed hackers to manipulate the images and audio files you receive on these platforms.

The security flaw, dubbed “Media File Jacking”, affected WhatsApp for Android by default, and Telegram for Android if certain features were enabled, Symantec researchers said in a blog post.

According to the researchers, WhatsApp saves files to external storage automatically, while Telegram does so when the “Save to Gallery” feature is enabled. However, neither apps have any system in place to protect users from a Media File Jacking attack, the researchers from Symantec’s Modern OS Security team explained.

Attackers could exploit this vulnerability to scam victims in various ways.

Hackers, Images, Whatsapp
If you thought instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram that provide end-to-end encryption give you rock-solid security, think again. Pixabay

“If the security flaw is exploited, a malicious attacker could misuse and manipulate sensitive information such as personal photos and videos, corporate documents, invoices, and voice memos,” wrote Software Engineer Alon Gat and Yair Amit, Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer, Modern OS Security, Symantec.

Giving example of image manipulation, the researchers said a seemingly innocent, but actually malicious, app downloaded by a user could manipulate personal photos in near-real time and without the victim knowing.

The app runs in the background and performs a “Media File Jacking attack” while the victim uses WhatsApp. It monitors for photos received through the app, identifies faces in photos, and replaces them with something else, such as other faces or objects.

“A WhatsApp user may send a family photo to one of their contacts, but what the recipient sees is actually a modified photo. While this attack may seem trivial and just a nuisance, it shows the feasibility of manipulating images on the fly,” said the blog post.

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Using the same vulnerability, the attackers could make payment manipulation, audio message spoofing or spread fake news.

“In one of the most damaging Media File Jacking attacks, a malicious actor can manipulate an invoice sent by a vendor to a customer, to trick the customer into making a payment to an illegitimate account,” Gat and Amit wrote.

“The Media File Jacking threat is especially concerning in light of the common perception that the new generation of IM (instant messaging) apps are immune to content manipulation and privacy risks, thanks to the utilisation of security mechanisms like end-to-end encryption,” they added.

Hackers, Images, Whatsapp
Researchers from cyber-security firm Symantec on Monday revealed vulnerabilities that allowed hackers to manipulate the images and audio files. Pixabay

Reports in May revealed that a bug in WhatsApp’s audio call feature allowed hackers to install spyware onto Android and iOS phones just by calling the target. The spyware was reportedly developed by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group.

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WhatsApp had said it identified and “promptly” fixed the vulnerability that could enable an attacker to insert and execute code on mobile devices. (IANS)

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Hackers Target 1 Indian Firm Over 1,500 Times a Week

Misconfiguration of cloud resources is still the number one cause for Cloud attacks, but now we also witness an increasing number of attacks aimed directly at Cloud service providers

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Bharat Bhise HNA, Hacker, Business
Hackers have the power to bring down your website or your entire network if they so wish. Pixabay

A single organisation in India was attacked an alarming 1,565 times per week on average in the past six months, compared to 474 attacks by hackers per organisation globally, says a new report.

According to researchers at Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point Research, 93 per cent of malicious files in India were delivered via the web, compared to 35 per cent of malicious files globally.

The most common vulnerability exploit type in India is information disclosure, impacting 64 per cent of the organisations and the top malware in India is “XMRig” that impacts 17 per cent of firms, said Check Point’s ‘2020 Cyber Security’ report.

“2019 presented a complex threat landscape where nation states, cybercrime organisations and private contractors accelerated the cyber arms race, elevating each other’s capabilities at an alarming pace, and this will continue into 2020,” said Lotem Finkelsteen, Threat Intelligence Group Manager, Check Point Software Technologies.

It is pertinent to note that cryptominers still dominate malware landscape.

Even though cryptomining declined during 2019, linked to cryptocurrencies’ fall in value and the closure of the Coinhive operation in March, 38 per cent of companies globally were impacted by crypto-miners in 2019, up from 37 per cent in 2018.

This is because the use of crypto-miners remains a low-risk, high-reward activity for criminals.

“Detecting and automatically blocking the attack at an early stage can prevent damage. Check Point’s 2020 Security Report shares what organisations need to look out for, and how they can win the war against cyber attacks through key best practices,” Finkelsteen added.

Twenty eight per cent of organisations globally were hit by botnet activity, an increase of over 50 per cent compared with 2018.

Iranian, Hackers, Cyberattacks
FILE – In 2010, the Stuxnet virus disrupted operation of centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility in Iran. VOA

Emotet was the most common bot malware used, primarily because of its versatility in enabling malware and spam distribution services. Other botnet actions such as sextortion email activity and DDoS attacks also rose sharply in 2019.

While the number of impacted organisations is relatively low, the severity of the attack is much higher — as seen in 2019’s damaging attacks against US city administrations.

Criminals are choosing their ransomware targets carefully, with the aim of extorting the maximum revenue possible.

Notably, 27 per cent of organisations worldwide were impacted by cyberattacks that involved mobile devices in 2019, down from 33 per cent in 2018.

While the mobile threat landscape is maturing, organisations are also increasingly aware of the threat, and are deploying more protection on mobiles.

Currently, more than 90 per cent of enterprises use Cloud services and yet 67 per cent of security teams complain about the lack of visibility into their Cloud infrastructure, security, and compliance.

The magnitude of Cloud attacks and breaches has continued to grow in 2019.

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Misconfiguration of cloud resources is still the number one cause for Cloud attacks, but now we also witness an increasing number of attacks aimed directly at Cloud service providers.

“Even if an organisation is equipped with the most comprehensive, state-of-the-art security products, the risk of being breached cannot be completely eliminated. Beyond detection and remediation, organizations need to adopt a proactive plan to stay ahead of cybercriminals and prevent attacks,” explained Finkelsteen. (IANS)