WhatsApp spyware: Beware, it might attack your smartphone!

By: The Mobile Indian network, New Delhi Last updated : Saturday, May, 18 2019

It came as a shock to the technology world when WhatsApp admitted that it was home to a vulnerability that allowed attackers to infiltrate phones with spyware developed by Israeli developer NSO Group. Before we move on to how you can avoid such an attack on your WhatsApp account, let’s talk about how attackers did gain access to such a vulnerability. Let’s get started.

WhatsApp spyware: How WhatsApp went vulnerable?

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Attackers first gained access to Israeli developer NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware which was then exploited to access users’ camera, microphone, location and all the texts. The malicious code was transmitted by calling users on WhatsApp and the method even worked when the call was not answered. 

WhatsApp spyware: Would you know if your account was hacked?

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To put it simply, the answer is no. Since the code worked even when a WhatsApp call wasn’t answered, the call would disappear from the call logs as well. 

WhatsApp spyware: How do you safeguard from such an attack?

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WhatsApp has rolled out an update to secure its servers. The platform has also rolled out a security patch to prevent smartphones from being attacked from the vulnerability. To keep your account safe, you can head over to the Apple App Store on iOS and Google Play Store on Android to update your WhatsApp app with the latest security fix. 

WhatsApp spyware: What’s the extent of the latest attack?

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NSO’s Pegasus spyware can access a phone’s camera and microphone, open messages, record what appears on the screen and also log keystrokes. This means all your sensitive data including passwords, bank information and personal information can be access if an attacker has called on WhatsApp. The spyware works on all operating systems including iOS, Android and even older versions of Windows on mobiles.

WhatsApp spyware: Is NSO to be blamed for the exploit of their spyware?

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Government and private hackers are constantly trying their means to snoop in on personal and private information for the sake of security. It’s for these organisation that companies like NSO work to release spyware like Pegasus. Security developers are then forced to work for governments and intelligence organisations to prevent terrorist attacks and disrupt dictatorial regimes but that doesn’t make the former a saint as sensitive data of innocent individuals are shared as well for the sake of security. 

WhatsApp spyware: Are you safe by just updating WhatsApp?

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The answer is obviously no as there are other alleged issues revolving around WhatsApp. While the company promises end-to-end encryption, it’s no way a fail-safe to secure conversations. WhatsApp lets you backup your chats and media on Google Drive but little do users know that this data isn’t protected under its End-to-end encryption. This data can thus be accessed either WhatsApp or Google to check up on an individual. 

WhatsApp spyware: WhatsApp’s other misadventures

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Earlier this year, a bug was reported on WhatsApp on iOS which allowed anyone the access to chats even if they’re secured with Face ID or Touch ID on iPhones. WhatsApp has also drawn flake over spreading fake news in India as it was found to be the major medium for sending rumours or misinformation. Last year, researchers also found a flaw inside WhatsApp which when abused allowed hackers to manipulate messages before they were delivered. These are just a handful of known ones that have been reported in the past few months. Who knows if there are more. 

WhatsApp spyware: Alternatives for WhatsApp?

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If you wish to quit WhatsApp once and for all, there are a handful of alternatives which provide similar functionality as WhatsApp but are safe as well, at least for the time being. Telegram, for example, offers the same features including voice and video messages, groups and broadcasts, a phone number-based login system, emojis and stickers. Other alternatives are a hit and miss but you might just like them - Line, Signal, Kik Messenger and Wire are some of them.