Hackernoon logoHelpful Strategies to Combat WhatsApp Security Threats by@shigraf-aijaz

Helpful Strategies to Combat WhatsApp Security Threats

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@shigraf-aijazshigraf Aijaz

I am a cybersecurity journalist who has a knack for following emerging technology.

In the previous year, a security flaw was found in the WhatsApp desktop version. It allowed cyber-crooks to push malware or deploy codes by using harmless messages.

The security researchers have detected a JavaScript vulnerability. It enables the spread of phishing, malware, and ransomware campaigns via notification messages that look normal.

More than 1.5 billion people use the desktop platform every month. The bug can impact all these users for the iPhone if they don't update their devices and still use the Chrome browser's old version. Malicious actors can also inject some harmful codes or links that cause unsuspected users to click on those links that look like a friend's message.

WhatsApp security needs immense consideration. Here we're going to discuss vulnerabilities associated with WhatsApp and the security practices required to ensure your privacy.

WhatsApp Web Malware

There are more than two billion WhatsApp users worldwide, making it a target for cyber-criminals. WhatsApp has always allowed you to download any desktop app, open a website, scan a code with the app on your smartphone, and use WhatsApp on your computer.

The app store within your device, either the App Store and Google Play, is much more carefully regulated than the internet. When you search for WhatsApp on these stores, it's evident which app is the official one. But, it isn't right for the full internet.

Hackers have taken advantage of this. There've been incidents of the hijackers passing the malicious software in the form of WhatsApp desktop apps. If you have downloaded any one of them, the installation can distribute malware on your system.

Some hackers often try a different approach like reverse engineering. The main purpose is to fool you into giving away your personal information. Most of these sites pretend to be a WhatsApp Web, asking you to provide your contact number to connect to their service. But, they use the number to link with other hacked or leaked data over the internet.

Unencrypted Backups

The messages sent by you on WhatsApp are protected by end-to-end encryption. It means that you and the recipient can decode it. These features stop your message from being seized during transmission, even by Facebook.

But, this doesn't protect them once they decrypted it on your device.

WhatsApp platform permits you for messages and media on Android and iOS. It is a vital feature because it allows you to restore your messages. Additionally, to cloud-based backup, there is a local backup on your phone as well.

You can back up your data on either Google Drive or iCloud if you're an iPhone user. The backups have the decrypted messages from your device.

But, the backup file stored on your desired location isn't encrypted.

Since the file has all decrypted versions of your messages, it is vulnerable and raises a question on WhatsApp end-to-end encryption.

Data Sharing Through Facebook

WhatsApp updated its Privacy Policy back during the start of this year, for which they were criticized too, and it is again in the reviewing phase. In 2016, the company allowed sharing of data from WhatsApp to Facebook. Even though they avoid revealing the entire extent of this data transfer, it includes your phone number and usage data. It gives rise to a new WhatsApp vulnerability, which puts your WhatsApp messages at significant risk.

They stated that your information would be publicly visible on Facebook, indicating that it would be hidden in Facebook's inaccessible profile. The company faced severe backlash on this announcement.

As a result, WhatsApp allows its users to manage their data sharing arrangements. But, after some time, they removed this option without the consent of the other. The New York Times reported that Facebook has started to make a unified infrastructure for its messaging channels. It would integrate Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Because each service seems to be a separate app, the messages will be sent on the same network.

Media File Jacking

Media file jacking is yet another security vulnerability faced by WhatsApp. It takes advantage of how apps receive media files such as photos or videos and writes those files to the device's external storage. 

The attack begins by installing malware hidden in a simple app. The malware can then track the incoming files for WhatsApp. When new data comes in, the malware can replace it with a fake one. Symantec Company found this vulnerability, and it states that it is used to spread fake news or scam users.

Tips for WhatsApp Security and Privacy

Although WhatsApp is among the biggest instant messaging apps (millions, in fact, in billions of people, use WhatsApp), considering the threats mentioned above, everyone needs to remain safe. Adopt the practices mentioned below to ensure their online safety and security.

Here are seven tips to protect yourself from hackers on WhatsApp:

1. Enable Security Notifications

Whenever a new phone or a laptop accesses any existing chat, a security code is generated, which is a new one. WhatsApp can send you a notification when the security code is changed. In this way, you can check the encryption with anyone you chat with over a different messenger to ensure your online security. 

To do so, switch on your security notifications. Go to WhatsApp> Settings> Account> Security> Show Security Notifications and swipe the button towards the right.

2. Enable Multi-Factor Verification

Enabling multi-factor authentication on your device adds an extra layer of passcode to your app and ensures that your data can't be accessed by anyone other than you. 

To activate this feature, visit Menu> Settings> Account> 2FA verification> Enable. By following some steps, you come up with a six-digit PIN code that is remembered. Add your email address to get back the code in case you forget it.

3. Lock Your WhatsApp Screen

The lock screen option is available on almost all Android devices. It ensures that no one except for you can open your WhatsApp account. Visit the Settings Menu> Privacy> Select the Screen Lock option. 

All you have to do is insert and register your fingerprint, and once the process is completed, you've to scan your fingerprint each time you open WhatsApp. 

4. End-to-End Encryption

All WhatsApp users should make sure that their chats are end-to-end encrypted. Verify that your conversation is encrypted by tapping on the contact info screen's name, tap on encryption to view the QR code and 60-digit number.

WhatsApp encryption guarantees that only you and your recipient can read the messages that are being exchanged, and even WhatsApp is incapable of doing so. Thus, don't neglect this feature.

5. Avoid Clicking on Suspicious Links

To protect yourself from WhatsApp vulnerabilities, prevent clicking on any suspicious-looking links by any sender. In fact, before clicking on any link, get to know what the link is all about. Ask your contact what the link is all about. In most cases, such links contain malware, which risks it at considerable risks after downloading it to your phone.

Don't forget the famous incident when Amazon CEO's phone got hacked through a video file. Next time, when you come across any such link, remember this occasion when one of the renowned person's phones got hacked if this can happen to influential people, so why not anyone like you.

6. Look Out for Scams

Remember, WhatsApp never contacts you on the app. It never sends any email about chats, photos, videos, and voice messages unless you've mailed them for any help or support. Anything given for free subscription and claims to be from WhatsApp is a scam so, be careful and avoid it.

7. Don't Forget to Log Out from WhatsApp Web

Many users are not aware that they should log out of the WhatsApp web on the Google Chrome browser from their mobile or the browser. If you don't logout then, it's easy for anyone to access all your WhatsApp messages. Thus, always log out once you stop using the app from the web. 

Parting Words

WhatsApp security has grown as a significant concern for every user. There are more vulnerabilities and threats to come to light in the upcoming time. All you need to do is adopt and follow the security practices, as mentioned earlier, to protect yourself from hackers' clutches.

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