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WHATSAPP GROUP CHATS; INVITE LINKS, AND SEARCH ENGINES ARE REDUCING PRIVACY

This piece examines security issues on the WhatsApp messenger platform – showing loopholes and fixes where applicable.

  • WhatsApp, Such an Incredible Userbase
  • “Invite to Group” Link
  • Confidentiality of Links
  • Be Aware of your Contents
  • Bugs – Malicious Media Messages
  • Update to Latest Version

WhatsApp, Such an Incredible Userbase

With almost two billion users all around the globe, WhatsApp seems to be one of the most used social media apps at the moment. These prolifically high numbers of users make WhatsApp a target for data breaching and data gathering across several user devices by different persons with malicious intentions. To combat these, a whole lot of security measures, protocols, and processes have to come into play to not only guarantee users of their privacy and data security – especially from cyberhackers, malicious links, and materials of all sorts.

“Invite to Group” Link

The invite link to join a WhatsApp group can be shared on any platform across the internet. Once these links are cataloged by Google, they become commonly available on the search engine, with a few clicks and strokes, a bunch of buzzwords, and a little time, viola! Unsolicited individuals could join in the group chat, thereby giving anybody access to information, messages shared on that group.

Group links could be found with the help of a search engine, and what’s left is then joining the group chat without the initial participants automatically knowing they were part of a chat that was openly accessible and could be effortlessly found through a few clicks on search engines.

Once a person has access to a WhatsApp group – irrespective of whether they found a link via a search engine, and haven’t been invited to join the conversation – such an individual can still view all the messages shared within the group and all the numbers of those participants who are in it.

Confidentiality of Links

Although, in a recent statement, WhatsApp has come out to state the feature is functioning just as planned, and it’s not an anomaly. This risk exposure has led to warnings that people should be cautious about what is being shared in supposedly exclusive group chats since supposed strangers could view such messages and several persons, as long as these strangers can have access to the “Invite to Group” link.

The “Invite to Group” vulnerability stems from the fact that WhatsApp gives its users permission to create links and share these links to allow users to add anyone to ongoing conversations and make the process of joining a group a lot easier. All you need to do is share the invite link with a user you wish to add, the user only needs to click on the link and join to be a part of the conversation.

Be Aware of your Contents

Here’s the irony, once a group invite link is uploaded on a publicly accessible website, it will be marked by Google, and synced to its catalog. Once this has occurred, anyone can generally access the link through Google. They can also join groups without anybody granting access or approving the invite to join, not even WhatsApp group admins.

That implies that even though a group conversation may seem private, it could be revealed and gotten by almost anyone actively searching for it on Google.

To avoid this dilemma, links that users wish to share with people they know and trust should not be posted on an openly accessible website.

All WhatsApp chat users are sent a notification whenever a new participant joins the chat

By creating a WhatsApp group link, the messenger app notifies users in a warning that the link should only be shared with people they trust. They are also notified that once the link is created, it can be used by anyone to join the group.

Bugs – Malicious Media Messages

One of the numerous vulnerabilities of the WhatsApp messenger app is its susceptibility to malicious media messages such as videos and GIF files. This loophole can be further exploited by a “double-free bug.” This works when the bug relies on an attacker that pushes the malicious GIF file to the victim’s device through any channel. That could be WhatsApp, email, or any other messaging platform. With the GIF on the device, when the victim opens the gallery within WhatsApp to send images—not essentially the infected one—the hack triggers and the device and its contents become susceptible.

From a practical view, the efficiency of this hack depends on a so-called double-free bug, where the same memory address on the device is doubled. This pushes memory allocation into an unexpected spin, which either crashes the app or opens the vulnerability. Repeating an attack using the bug does not seem to be entirely reliable, and it affects different types of the operating system software in diverse ways, but a bug is a bug and, once identified, it can be developed and expanded.

Update to Latest Version

However, WhatsApp says it has identified and fixed the bug. The specifics of how it’s subjugated don’t quite matter as much as ensuring that users come up-to-date to the latest version of the app. While this hack seems like it affects only Android devices, every user is advised to update. Once a vulnerability reaches the public domain, there is always a risk of it being used—would-be attackers are well aware of the inertia that sees many users update apps much more sporadically than is healthy for their data security.

End-to-end Encryption

WhatsApp mainly and often boasts about its end – to – end encryption that ensures messages stay between you [the sender] and the receiver, i.e., WhatsApp messages and chats between two users cannot be intercepted or read by anyone else, not even WhatsApp!

Now, here’s the buzz, this end – to – end encryption feature keeps messages private and confidential as it is supposed to, but WhatsApp groups risk exposure and may no longer be as private as the users and group members may have initially thought.

Summarily, you are advised to always keep your WhatsApp up to date to ensure you have the latest security patch, bug fixes, and best of improved features with the latest additions.