Researchers claim WhatsApp group chats vulnerable, company denies
12 January, 2018, 15:15 | Author: Pamela Mathis
According to a report in Wired, the researchers say that anyone who controls WhatsApp's servers can add people into private group chats, without getting the admin's permission.
The issues are encryption flaws and were detailed at the Real Word Crypto security conference in Zurich, Switzerland by researchers from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.
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). WhatsApp is a widely used messenger and is available in more than 60 different languages which include 10 Indian languages.
That any would-be eavesdropper would have to control the WhatsApp server limits the spying method to sophisticated hackers who could compromise those servers, WhatsApp staffers, or governments who legally coerce WhatsApp to give them access.
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.
WhatsApp has confirmed the researchers' findings but points out that it is not possible to add a new member to a group without members of that group being notified.
The application has already submitted the "Restricted Groups" setting via Google Play Beta Programme in the version 2.17.430 which will restrict other members from responding to group messages without the administrator's approval. They will have to use the "Message Admin" button to post a message or share media to the group. The flaw means that anyone in control of a WhatsApp server could, in theory, insert people into a conversation - either with the aim of simply eavesdropping, or diverting the conversation. Since the group ID is a random 128-bit number (and is never revealed to non-group-members or even the server) that pretty much blocks the attack.
Security experts note that WhatsApp threat might seem like an alarming flaw. "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. "And if not, the value of encryption is very little", researcher Paul Rösler was quoted saying in the report.
WhatsApp is working on a new group notifications feature where a user will be notified every time they are mentioned by someone.
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