Published: Thu, January 11, 2018
Hi-Tech | By Grace Becker

WhatsApp 'bug' raises questions over group message privacy

WhatsApp 'bug' raises questions over group message privacy

German cryptographers claim that the flaw makes it easy for anyone to infiltrate private group chat without the permission of the group admin. WhatsApp, however, has turned down the claim.

PRIVATE messages sent by WhatsApp users could be exposed thanks to a new software bug. The server then checks that the user is authorized to administer that group, and (if so), it sends a message to every member of the group indicating that they should add that user.

Everyone in the group would see a message that a new member had joined, seemingly at the invitation of the unwitting administrator.

But there are a few issues with the researchers claims. But once the member has access to the group, he or she can also selectively block messages on the group.

Basically, the server can add a new member to the group without the concern of the administrator. The obvious examples that come to mind are hackers who manage to gain access to WhatsApp servers or a government successfully pressuring WhatsApp to give it access to targeted group chats. Thereby it can cache sent messages to the group, read their content first and decide in which order they are delivered to the members. Additionally the WhatsApp server can forward these messages to the members individually such that a subtly chosen combination of messages can help it to cover the traces.

Researchers announced they had discovered flaws in WhatsApp's security at the Real World Crypto security conference in Switzerland, Wired reports.

The main problem is this: end-to-end encryption, which all of these messaging apps purport to offer, should not depend on uncompromised servers.

"The confidentiality of the group is broken as soon as the uninvited member can obtain all the new messages and read them".

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All WhatsApp conversations are end-to-end encrypted, which means no outside party is allowed to snoop on a chat. And if not, the value of encryption is very little, ' said security researcher Paul Rösler. It plays an important role in securing apps against three types of attackers including, a malicious user, network attacker, and malicious server.

Alex Stamos, who heads up security at Facebook, said: "There is no secret way into WhatsApp group chats".

Update: A WhatsApp spokesperson responded to BGR India saying, "We've looked at this issue carefully".

WhatsApp drives most of our communications today. "WhatsApp is built so group messages can not be sent to hidden users and provides multiple ways for users to confirm who receives a message prior to it being sent", Stamos said.

"On WhatsApp, existing members of a group are notified when new people are added". This means that messages can not be read while in transit from one user to the other, thus making WhatsApp a relatively secure place to hold your chats on.

In January a year ago, the Guardian newspaper reported that WhatsApp was vulnerable to interception, sparking concern over the app that marketed itself as a privacy leader.

So far, we have been led to believe that end-to-end encryption in mobile phones and messaging apps like iMessage, WhatsApp and Telegram ensures that messages sent and received by users are so well scrambled that the services themselves can not access or read them.

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