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WhatsApp Breach Has Huge Privacy Implications, Say Experts

The spyware developed by the NSO Group had the capability to attack both Android and iOS devices

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whatsapp business app
FILE - The WhatsApp app logo is seen on a smartphone in this picture illustration. VOA

The victims of the latest WhatsApp spyware attack may have lost important personal information including location data and email content, say experts.

A bug in the Facebook-owned messaging app’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.

“The bug can be exploited based on a decades-old type of vulnerability – a buffer overflow,” Carl Leonard, Principle Security Analyst at cybersecurity company Forcepoint, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“While no details of the actions taken by this malware have emerged, one could assume that an attacker may seek out bulk contact lists, email data, location data or other personal information,” Leonard said.

WhatsApp has not yet shared much details on the nature of the attack and its implications, but it said it had provided information to the US law enforcement to help them conduct an investigation.

“We are early in our investigation and we don’t have numbers to share though this is a relatively small amount of people,” said WhatsApp, while urging its 1.5 billion users to update the app.

The company did not immediately share how the attack impacted users in India.

“Unbeknownst to the victims, the attackers obtained complete access to everything on the their mobile devices: personal and corporate information, email, contacts, camera, microphone, and the individual’s location,” Brian Gleeson, Mobile Product Marketing Manager at Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

WhatsApp, however, said that earlier this month, it identified and “promptly” fixed the vulnerability that could enable an attacker to insert and execute code on mobile devices.

WhatsApp
WhatsApp on a smartphone device.

The spyware developed by the NSO Group had the capability to attack both Android and iOS devices.

In fact, according to a report in the Financial Times, the secretive Israeli company called in its sales people last month to talk about its software that can even breach the privacy of iPhone users.

The executives from the NSO Group made a claim that it had figured out a way to “drop its payload”, a piece of software called Pegasus that can penetrate the darkest secrets of any iPhone, using just one simple missed call on WhatsApp, said the report citing one unnamed person at the meeting.

The phone starts revealing its encrypted content shortly after the missed call.

“It then transmits back the most intimate details such as private messages or location, and even turns on the camera and microphone to live-stream meetings,” said the report.

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While the software itself is not new, the WhatsApp hack was an enticing new “attack vector”, the person was quoted as saying.

“The WhatsApp hack illustrates that despite their best efforts, Apple and Google cannot completely secure the users of mobile devices running their operating systems,” Gleeson of Check Point said.

“In order to ensure users are properly protected, a mobile threat defence solution must be in place that can prevent spyware from gathering intelligence on their targets,” he added. (IANS)

Next Story

WhatsApp Beta Not Allowing Users to Save Profile Pictures

Details about the public roll-out of the feature remain unknown as of now

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whatsapp business app
FILE - The WhatsApp app logo is seen on a smartphone in this picture illustration. VOA

In its latest Android beta update, Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp is not allowing users to save profile pictures of individuals on their devices, the media reported.

“WhatsApp has removed the possibility to save profile pictures in latest Android beta updates and WhatsApp Business beta for iOS 2.19.60.5,” web portal WABetaInfo tweeted on Wednesday.

The feature was first spotted by an India-based beta tester of the app who tweeted to WABetaInfo inquiring about the update.

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WhatsApp on a smartphone device. Pixabay

“In the latest beta version 2.19.319, the option to save profile pictures is no longer there. It is only there for groups. Please confirm if this is a bug or it is going to remain that way? (Android 9)” Swarup Mondal tweeted.

On reading into the beta feature, WABetaInfo confirmed that WhatsApp was, in fact, still allowing people to save group icons.

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Details about the public roll-out of the feature remain unknown as of now.

Earlier in April, the instant messaging app was testing an ‘Authentication’ feature which would bar users from taking screenshots of their private conversations. (IANS)