Anyone can search WhatsApp Users Phone Numbers by Searching from Google
WhatsApp has a feature that allows Google to index and publish the phone numbers of WhatsApp users for regular online searches. This affects every one of WhatsApp’s 200 million users. The issue, labeled a security flaw, was found by full-time bug bounty hunter Atul Jayaram. According to Jayaram, the phone numbers of about 300,000 WhatsApp users appear in Google search engine results pages (SERPs) in plain text due to a chat feature of WhatsApp.
WhatsApp’s Click-to-Chat feature lets all of the app’s users create a custom URL with their phone number.
According to the WhatsApp support site, “As long as you know this person’s phone number and they have an active WhatsApp account, you can create a link that will allow you to start a chat with them. By clicking the link, a chat with the person automatically opens.”
WhatsApp users worldwide are affected by this issue.
It’s Not Really a Flaw Though
This is not really a security concern according to Threatpost. Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, says this is not a WhatsApp security flaw. Although phone numbers can be seen online, it is because of users who published their phone numbers online themselves.
…but they may not have realized that their personal URL can get out on the open internet.
The wa.me domain name is owned by WhatsApp, according to WHOIS records. Search engines like Google can index WhatsApp’s Click-to-Chat metadata found in each custom URL string. The phone numbers are revealed as part of a URL string (https://wa.me/<phone_number>) The phone number is also visible in plain text.
WhatsApp Click-to-chat Feature
WhatsApp users can use the Click-to-chat feature to give other people a way of contacting them without giving out their phone numbers. Business owners use click-to-chat to let website visitors begin conversations by placing the QR code on their website. For someone to use Click-to-chat they have to use a URL or scan a QR (quick response ) to enable the chat feature.
According to Jayaram, the click-to-chat feature has an issue that allows the user’s phone number to appear on Google in plain text although. So, if the link exists anywhere on the Internet, it can be indexed by Google. That means if a business owner puts that QR code or chat URL on their website or it is shared online, then it may be indexed and found in Google searches.
How Do I Create My Own Link in WhatsApp?
Anyone can create their own WhatsApp click-to chat link. Just start with the base WhatsApp click-to-chat URL (Use https://wa.me/)and append a phone number to the end in international format.
A click-to-chat URL look like this https://wa.me/1XXXXXXXXXX where each X is a placeholder for your phone number.
In a previous issue, and still existing, privacy concern involving WhatsApp it was found that invitations to private groups could also be indexed in search engines. That’s because they too are just website URLs like any other website.
WhatsApp Privacy Concern
Although only the user’s phone number is made public through this feature, this is an important piece of personally identifiable information that can be used to reset passwords and get past two-factor authentication (2FA) to gain access to more valuable accounts. Hackers collect fragments of information about victims through tactics such as social engineering, phishing emails, and previous data breaches. They can compile detailed profiles on individuals or tens of thousands of people. That sensitive information is then used to carry out phishing email campaigns and malware attacks with the goal of stealing information and money.
If your phone number is linked to your Bitcoin wallet then that may be as risk too.
How to Avoid Having Your Phone Number Made Public?
Don’t use the custom WhatsApp URL and don’t post the URL or QR code on any website or public forum. It’s more public than you may realize.