Privacy: WhatsApp's group messages might not be as secure as you think

WhatsApp

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.

So despite WhatsApp's implementation of end-to-end encryption in its messaging, there's potential for group chat to be infiltrated and snooped upon.

In a paper describing the flaw, titled "More is Less: On the End-to-End Security of Group Chats in Signal, WhatsApp, and Threema", the researchers explain how someone could take advantage of it.

Reacting to the report, Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos tweeted: "Read the Wired article about WhatsApp - scary headline!" The security researchers have argued that security protocols on group chats will need to be enhanced in light of the vulnerabilities pointed out by them. All group members are deemed administrators, and can thus add a new group member by sending an encrypted group management message to the other participants. "The content of messages sent in WhatsApp groups remains protected by end-to-end encryption". "I think it would be better if the server didn't have metadata visibility into group membership, but that's a largely unsolved problem, and it's unrelated to confidentiality of group messages", he added.

Firstly, control of WhatsApp servers tends to be only possible by Facebook (which owns WhatsApp), and governments who can demand access to the servers.

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While the exploits in Threema and Signal seemed to be relatively harmless, WhatsApp had far more significant gaps in security.

Researchers advise messaging services to address the issue by simply adding an authentication mechanism to ensure that the "signed" group management messages come only from the group administrator.

He said that there are multiple ways to verify group chat members, adding that users are notified of anyone new joining, including those without permission. A report by Wired has confirmed these findings with a WhatsApp spokesperson. If they add themselves to the group: 1.

"WhatsApp has looked at the report carefully - following the researcher's plan would necessitate a change to the way WhatsApp provides a popular feature called group invite links - which are used millions of times per day", he said in one of the tweets.

The idea behind encryption is to muddle your messages so only you and the recipient can read texts you send. One example attack posited that former members of groups could record the group ID and use that for future attacks. The attackers might send spoofed messages in order to prevent the administrator from removing spy from the private conversation. "There is no way to suppress this message".

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