WhatsApp group chats can be infiltrated without admin permission

12 January, 2018, 03:29 | Author: Shannon Newton
  • German researchers said that anyone who controls the app's servers could insert new people into private group chats without needing admin permission

The team of cryptographers at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, found a set of security weaknesses in the messaging app that together allow anyone controlling the WhatsApp server to insert other parties into a private group thread without getting permission from the administrator who controls the group.

Here's how WhatsApp group messaging works: membership is maintained by the server. The big draw to the app for many is that it has an encrypted group chat feature, so you don't need to worry that someone is listening in on what you are saying.

In response to the study, Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has said it won't fix the problem, and that group chats "remain protected" by the app's encryption. "It's why we collect very little information and all messages sent on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted", the spokesperson added.

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According to the researchers, in a pairwise communication, where only two users communicate with each other, the server has a limited role to pay, but in a group conversation, the role of servers increases to merge the entire process and it is here where the problem of vulnerability kicks in.

The WhatsApp attack on group chats takes advantage of a bug.

"If someone hacks the WhatsApp server, they can obviously alter the group membership".

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"While our investigation focuses on three major instant messaging applications, our methodology and the underlying model is of generic objective and can be applied to other secure group instant messaging protocols as well", researchers concluded in the paper. The research claims that anyone who controls the server can add any uninvited member in any private chat without the permission of the group admin. As a result, any potential flaw that impacts WhatsApp's privacy is cause for concern. Only the administrator of a WhatsApp group can invite new members, but WhatsApp doesn't use any authentication mechanism for that invitation that its own servers can't spoof. "Existing members are notified when new people are added to a WhatsApp group".

In response to the study, which was first reported by Wired, Facebook's Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos wrote on Twitter: 'Read the Wired article today about WhatsApp - scary headline! In such a case, it is impossible for them to share details with enforcement agencies that they themselves can not access. "There is no way to suppress this message".

The idea behind encryption is to muddle your messages so only you and the recipient can read texts you send.

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"In contrast, Telegram does no encryption at all for group messages, even though it advertises itself as an encrypted messenger, and even though Telegram users think that group chats are somehow secure. It could even prevent any administrator's attempt to remove the eavesdropper from the group if discovered", Rösler said.

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