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Is WhatsApp safe?

A study says, group chat on the app is not safe

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  • Researchers say WhatsApp group chat is not safe. Security can be breached.
  • WhatsApp has responded by saying its end-to-end encryption cannot be breached.
  • WhatsApp plans to add more features to group chats.

Anyone who controls the app’s servers could insert new people into private group chats without needing admin permission, say cryptographers from Ruhr University Bochum, Germany.

However, WhatsApp says their end-to-end encryption is impeccable and there is no risk of data breach.

Read More: WhatsApp information sharing – A Threat to Users’ Privacy

Are WhatsApp group chats safe? Wikimedia commons
Are WhatsApp group chats safe? Wikimedia Commons

What researchers say

“The confidentiality of the group is broken as soon as the uninvited member can obtain all the new messages and read them,” Paul Rosler, one of the Ruhr University researchers, was quoted as saying.

The report, however, did not document any threat to the way end-to-end encryption protects the content of messages sent to the app.

According to the report, the attack on group chats takes advantage of a bug.

“Only an administrator of a group can invite new members, but WhatsApp doesn’t use any authentication mechanism for that invitation that its own servers can’t spoof,” the report said.

So the server can simply add a new member to a group with no interaction on the part of the administrator.

“The phone of every participant in the group then automatically shares secret keys with that new member, giving him or her full access to any future messages,” the report added.

"The privacy and security of our users is incredibly important to WhatsApp. It's why we collect very little information and all messages sent on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted," Wikimedia commons
“The privacy and security of our users are incredibly important to us. It’s why we collect very little information and all messages sent on the app are end-to-end encrypted,” Wikimedia Commons

What WhatsApp says

Reacting to the report, Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos tweeted: “Read the Wired article about WhatsApp — scary headline! But there is no secret way into WhatsApp groups chats. The article makes a few key points.”

In a statement to IANS on Thursday, a WhatsApp spokesperson said: “We’ve looked at this issue carefully. Existing members are notified when new people are added to a WhatsApp group. We built WhatsApp so group messages cannot be sent to a hidden user.

Also read: WhatsApp asked not to share data with Facebook

“The privacy and security of our users is incredibly important to WhatsApp. It’s why we collect very little information and all messages sent on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted,” the spokesperson added.

WhatsApp provides users with multiple ways of confirming who will receive a message prior to it being sent.

In every WhatsApp group, users see a special blue message when someone joins or leaves a group.

The membership of a group can be seen by tapping on “group info”.

For additional security, users can easily verify the security code of other group members.

The app is adding more features to group chats. Wikimedia commons
The app is adding more features to group chats. Wikimedia Commons

WhatsApp is also testing a feature where it will likely give group administrators more powers where they will be able to restrict all other members from sending text messages, photographs, videos, GIFs, documents or voice messages in case the admin thinks so.

According to WABetaInfo, a fan site that tests new WhatsApp features early, the popular mobile messaging platform has submitted the “Restricted Groups” setting via Google Play Beta Programme in the version 2.17.430.

Once restricted, other members will simply have to read their messages and will not be able to respond. They will have to use the “Message Admin” button to post a message or share media to the group. (IANS)

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WhatsApp Announces 20 Teams To Curb Fake News Globally

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation

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WhatsApp selects 20 teams to curb fake news globally, including India. Pixabay

Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Tuesday announced that it has selected 20 research teams worldwide – including experts from India and those of Indian origin — who will work towards how misinformation spreads and what additional steps the mobile messaging platform could take to curb fake news.

Shakuntala Banaji from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Anushi Agrawal and Nihal Passanha from Bengaluru-based media and arts collective “Maraa” and Ramnath Bhat from LSE have been selected for the paper titled “WhatsApp Vigilantes? WhatsApp messages and mob violence in India”.

The research examines the ways in which WhatsApp users understand and find solutions to the spate of “WhatsApp lynchings” that has killed over 30 people so far.

The Indian government has also directed WhatsApp to take necessary remedial measures to prevent proliferation of fake and, at times, motivated/sensational messages on its platform.

Among others selected were Vineet Kumar from Ranchi-headquartered Cyber Peace Foundation (principal investigator), Amrita Choudhary, President of the Delhi-based non-profit Cyber Café Association of India (CCAOI) and Anand Raje from Cyber Peace Foundation.

They will work as a team on the paper titled “Digital literacy and impact of misinformation on emerging digital societies”.

P.N. Vasanti from Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi woll work withS. Shyam Sundar, The Pennsylvania State University (Principal Investigator) to examine the role of content modality in vulnerability to misinformation, under the topic titled “Seeing is Believing: Is Video Modality More Powerful in Spreading Fake News?”

WhatsApp had issued a call for papers in July this year and received proposals from over 600 research teams around the world.

“Each of the 20 research teams will receive up to $50,000 for their project (for a total of $1 million),” WhatsApp said in a statement.

Lipika Kamra from O.P. Jindal Global University and Philippa Williams from the Queen Mary University of London (Principal Investigator) will examine the role of WhatsApp in everyday political conversations in India, in the context of India’s social media ecosystem.

According to Mrinalini Rao, lead researcher at WhatsApp, the platform cares deeply about the safety of its over 1.5 billion monthly active users globally and over 200 million users in India.

whatsapp
WhatsApp on a smartphone device. Pixabay

“We appreciate the opportunity to learn from these international experts about how we can continue to help address the impact of misinformation,” Rao said.

“These studies will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education campaigns to help keep people safe,” she added.

The recipients are from countries including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Singapore, Spain, the UK and US.

WhatsApp said it is hosting them in California this week so they can hear from product leaders about how it builds its product.

“Given the nature of private messaging – where 90 per cent of the messages sent are between two people and group sizes are strictly limited – our focus remains on educating and empowering users and proactively tackling abuse,” said the company.

WhatsApp recently implemented a “forward label” to inform users when they received a message that was not originally written by their friend or loved one. To tackle abuse, WhatApp has also set a limit on how many forwards can be sent.

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation.

Also Read- Facebook Blocks Accounts Engaged in Malicious Activities

“We are also running ads in several languages — in print, online, and on over 100 radio stations — amounting to the largest public education campaign on misinformation anywhere in the world,” the company noted.

Sayan Banerjee from University of Essex, Srinjoy Bose from University of New South Wales and Robert A. Johns from University of Essex will study “Misinformation in Diverse Societies, Political Behaviour & Good Governance”.

Santosh Vijaykumar from Northumbria University, Arun Nair from Health Systems Research India Initiative and Venkat Chilukuri, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology are part of the team that will study “Misinformation Vulnerabilities among Elderly during Disease Outbreaks”. (IANS)