Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
Industry | By Johnnie Johnson

German security researchers say WhatsApp group chats not secure

German security researchers say WhatsApp group chats not secure

The experts planned to reveal their findings at the Real World Crypto security conference Wednesday in Switzerland.

The WhatsApp flaw allows anyone in control of WhatsApp servers to insert new participants into a private group without the permission of group admins. WhatsApp has introduced end-to-end encryption across the app and made all conversations on the group private, meaning no third-party can read them, be it government, criminals or even WhatsApp itself.

WhatsApp has also noted that it has consistently pushed back on government requests to break encryption. Interestingly, the compromised admin or a malicious employee with access to the server could manipulate alerts to not other group members any notification of a new person joining them.

In every WhatsApp group, users see a special blue message when someone joins or leaves a group.

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According to the report on Wired, researchers pointed out a bug in WhatsApp's system of authentication.

"The confidentiality of the group is broken as soon as the uninvited member can obtain all the new messages and read them", Paul Rosler, one of the Ruhr University researchers, was quoted as saying.

"Additionally the WhatsApp server can forward these messages to the members individually such that a subtly chosen combination of messages can help it to cover the traces".

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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While the flaw is not likely to be a concern to the average WhatsApp user, it may be slightly more worrying to journalists and informants who use the platform because they believe it offers complete security and privacy.

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The research findings totally negates the value of end-to-end encryption brought by WhatsApp nearly two years ago. But a new research paper shows there are some significant gaps in the Facebook-owned platform's security. In the program, security experts get paid to report bugs in the company's software. Existing members are notified when new people are added to a WhatsApp group.

According to the researchers, in a pairwise communication, where only two users communicate with each other, the server has a limited role to pay, but in a group conversation, the role of servers increases to merge the entire process and it is here where the problem of vulnerability kicks in.

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That seems to be enough for them at the moment, especially because a fix for the flaw could end up breaking the convenient "group invite link" feature. However, the research tells that attackers might control messaging app, meaning that some of the messages warning about an unknown person in the group chat might be deleted.

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