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14 January 2018, 12:16 | Harold Aguilar
WhatsApp messages are heavily encrypted but German researchers have found a vulnerability in group chatsReuters
Anyone who controls the app's servers could insert new people into private group chats without needing admin permission.
According to a report in Wired.com, the cryptographers from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany announced this at the "Real World Crypto Security Conference" in Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
It is not the first serious vulnerability that researchers have discovered on WhatsApp's messaging platform, with security firm Checkpoint uncovering a loophole previous year that allowed hackers to completely take over users' accounts and access conversations, contact lists, photos, videos and other shared media.
Once a new person is in, the phone of each member of that group chat automatically shares secret keys with that person, giving them full access to all future messages, but not past ones.
The other participants will get a notification about a new user joining the group, but they have no way of knowing whether the new member was invited by the administrator (s).
German researchers have claimed there is a way to infiltrate WhatsApp's group chats and listen on private messages, despite its end-to-end encryption. All group members will see that the attacker has joined. The same security flaw also affects Signal and Threema messaging apps, but not to the degree that WhatsApp is affected according to researchers.
But they told the researchers the group invitation bug they'd found was merely "theoretical" and didn't even qualify for the so-called bug bounty program run by Facebook, WhatsApp's corporate owner, in which security researchers are paid for reporting hackable flaws in the company's software. "If I hear there's end-to-end encryption for both groups and two-party communications, that means adding of new members should be protected against".
In a statement to IANS on Thursday, a WhatsApp spokesperson said: "We've looked at this issue carefully". WhatsApp is also testing a new "Quick Switch" feature to let users shift from voice call to video.
We completed the implementation of end-to-end encryption in 2016 for all messaging and calling on WhatsApp so that no one, not even us, has access to the content of your conversations.
"At present, WhatsApp is developing this feature for iOS and it will be available soon for all users, instead for Android it is already enabled by default in the newest WhatsAppGoogle Play beta for Android 2.18.12", the report confirmed.
"The WhatsApp server can therefore use the fact that it can stealthily reorder and drop messages in the group", the paper states. But there is no [sic] a secret way into WhatsApp groups chats'.
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