Wednesday, 17 October, 2018

Flaw in WhatsApp and Signal exposes group chats to 'extremely difficult' hacks

WhatsApp security loophole can add uninvited members to your groups Creepy hackers could secretly eavesdrop on your private WhatsApp group chats, experts claim
Kayla Schwartz | 11 January, 2018, 15:28

WhatsApp is an instant messaging platform which is preferred by millions of users across the globe, thanks to the clean user interface.

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.

Security researchers have discovered a method of infiltrating group chats in WhatsApp, effectively rendering the chat tool's end-to-end encryption useless. But attackers that can control of a Threema server can replay messages or add a previously removed user back into a group, the researchers found.

While gaining access to WhatsApp servers are limited to the abilities of advanced hackers, the question is what happens when they gain access?

Once a new member who is uninvited has been added to the group, the confidentiality of the group will be broken as the member can access all the new messages and read them, claims one of the researchers.

A WhatsApp bug that allows anyone to infiltrate private group chats has been uncovered by researchers. However, an admin is the only one who can invite new members to the group, but WhatsApp doesn't have a mechanism to authenticate that invitation which its own server can spoof.

WhatsApp also stated that preventing the attack would put an end to its group invite link tool which allows anyone to enter a group just by tapping on a URL.

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"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.

WhatsApp introduced end-to-end encryption to assure users that their conversations can not be accessed, even if the company providing it so desires. End-to-end security protection doesn't mean almost as much when someone at the company can simply drop a new person into a private chat anytime they want. Given that the security and privacy of the users is a priority for WhatsApp, they collect very little information and all the messages are end-to-end encrypted.

They add, "Existing members are notified when new people are added to a WhatsApp group".

WhatsApp acknowledged the flaw to Wired, although emphasised that adding participants completely covertly is impossible, because of the notification system. WhatsApp incidentally relies on the Signal protocol for its end-to-end encryption. This does not mean that the remaining members of the group won't know that a new one has joined. The application has been designed in such a way that the group messages can not be sent to any hidden user. The WhatsApp server can therefore use the fact that it can stealthily reorder and drop messages in the group.

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

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

The spokesperson said that if an admin spots unknown members of the group, they can alert other members through another group or one-to-one conversations. In such a case, it is impossible for them to share details with enforcement agencies that they themselves can not access.

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