A huge WhatsApp design flaw that allows anyone to infiltrate private group chats has been uncovered by security researchers.
The vulnerabilities found in Threema and Signal are relatively harmless compared to the problems researchers found with WhatsApp, because of the relative ease with which new people can be inserted into private groups without any permission.
It is not the first serious vulnerability that researchers have discovered on WhatsApp's messaging platform, with security firm Checkpoint uncovering a loophole past year that allowed hackers to completely take over users' accounts and access conversations, contact lists, photos, videos and other shared media.
Those who use WhatsApp will know that a notification is sent when a new member joins a group - killing any chance of quietly watching conversations without anyone noticing.
"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.
With over 1.2 billion monthly active users, WhatsApp is available in more than 50 different languages around the world and in 10 Indian languages.
As per the report, any hacker can gain access to a group chat on WhatsApp, despite end-to-end encryption. And as only new messages can be viewed by a new member, the risk to privacy is mitigated somewhat.
Existing members are notified when new people are added to a WhatsApp group.
WhatsApp said it had "carefully looked" at the flaw and reassured users that their encrypted messages were safe.
Facebook owned WhatsApp has been rolling out new features at regular intervals - first through beta channel and then through stable channel to all the users. However, WhatsApp has pointed out that it does give notifications and alerts when a new user is added to the group.
"Alex Stamos, the Chief Security Officer of Facebook, in response to the report said on Twitter, "[sic] Read the Wired article today about WhatsApp - scary headline! They should utilize the Message Admin catch to post a message or offer media to the gathering. This allows the server controller to add a new group person without the group admin's knowledge. But there is no [sic] a secret way into WhatsApp groups chats'.
It's not a problem that will impact most users, but chat apps like Signal and WhatsApp have been used for private conversations from everyone ranging from politicians to government dissenters. "And if not, the value of encryption is very little", researcher Paul Rösler was quoted saying in the report.
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