Security researchers reveal flaw in WhatsApp encryption

Creepy hackers could secretly eavesdrop on your private WhatsApp group chats, experts claim

A flaw in WhatsApp's group messaging protocol means that, despite its vaunted end-to-end (E2E) encryption, messages can still be read by unwanted eyes, researchers from Germany's Ruhr University Bochum have found.

The newly published paper claims that anyone who has control of the WhatsApp services including the employees of the company can covertly add the members to any WhatsApp group.

While, the group and the chats themselves have a layer of end-to-end encryption, the servers that the chats run on don't. 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. 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.

As noted cryptographer and Johns Hopkins University professor Matthew Green explained, the vulnerability stems from the fact that the WhatsApp server plays a significant role in group management, and that group management messages are not end-to-end encrypted or signed.

But the flaw can only be exploited if attackers can get access to WhatsApp's servers.

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!

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"And in groups with multiple administrators, the hijacked server could spoof different messages to each administrator, making it appear that another one had invited the eavesdropper so that none raises an alarm".

"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.

Everyone in the group would see a message that a new member had joined, seemingly at the invitation of the unwitting administrator.

Researchers found in November that deleted messages were actually still on the device, and could easily be accessed through the app's Settings.

PRIVATE messages sent by WhatsApp users could be exposed thanks to a new software bug. In such a case, it is impossible for them to share details with enforcement agencies that they themselves can not access. An attacker who compromises the Telegram server can, undetected, recover every message that was sent in the past and receive all messages transmitted in the future without anyone receiving any notification at all. 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. "There is no way to suppress this message", he wrote. It is said that this flaw can comprise of the end-to-end encryption of the messaging platform. "It could even prevent any administrator's attempt to remove the eavesdropper from the group if discovered", Rösler said.

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