WhatsApp Security Incident – Here’s What to Do
WhatsApp disclosed a serious security vulnerability with which hackers could install malware. It was discovered that the messaging app WhatsApp contained spyware that can be used to gain access to any device it was installed on. The hack was reported to US officials and the European Union’s lead privacy regulator, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC).
The vulnerability allows hackers to inject spyware when WhatsApp users made or received voice calls. WhatsApp’s security advisory on Facebook stated, “A buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp VOIP stack allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of SRTCP packets sent to a target phone number.”
The WhatsApp security vulnerability allowed hackers to install spyware which can be used to take control of the phone including the camera. The malware, in this case spyware, took advantage of a vulnerability during missed calls in the app’s voice calling function. The malware allowed hackers to gain access to personal data on hacked phones.
“The DPC understands that the vulnerability may have enabled a malicious actor to install unauthorized software and gain access to personal data on devices which have WhatsApp installed,” the EU regulator stated.
So far, WhatsApp has not notified the DPC of the matter under GDPR Article 33, Notification of a personal data breach to a data protection supervisory authority. It is not known yet is any EU citizens’ data was affected by the cyber security incident. “WhatsApp is still investigating as to whether any WhatsApp EU user data has been affected as a result of this incident,” the DPC said, adding that WhatsApp informed it of the incident late on Monday.
The Affected Versions of WhatsApp Are:
- WhatsApp for iOS prior to v2.19.51
- WhatsApp for Tizen prior to v2.18.15
- WhatsApp for Android prior to v2.19.134
- WhatsApp Business for iOS prior to v2.19.51
- WhatsApp Business for Android prior to v2.19.44
- WhatsApp for Windows Phone prior to v2.18.348
Who is the NSO Group?
It is suspected that the spyware is the work of Israel’s NSO Group. WhatsApp has not confirmed the identification of the hackers. The spyware takes advantage of vulnerabilities to hack smartphones. Once access is acquired, the spyware can control the phone’s camera and be used to surveil the device’s owner. NSO malware has been used to spy on journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, and dissidents in previous hacks. NSO spyware was implicated in the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
What is WhatsApp
WhatsApp is a messaging and Voice over IP mobile app owned by Facebook. Users can send text messages, images, videos, and documents as well as place voice and video calls. WhatsApp is a Facebook subsidiary acquired in February 2014. The app has over 1.5 billion users globally.
WhatsApp Spyware – What to Do
A security patch was released and is available for download for all versions and operating systems. All WhatsApp users should upgrade to the latest version. Security patches can be downloaded and installed from official sites via the Apple Store or Google Play Store.
For future security patches, it is advisable to protect your device by allowing it to accept automatic updates. To limit the use of mobile data, users can change their settings to only take the updates while on WiFi connections.
How to Update WhatsApp – Android
- On your Android mobile device, go to the Google Play Store
- Tap the hamburger menu in the upper left corner of the Play Store screen
- Select My apps & games from the menu
- Scroll down to WhatsApp on the list of your installed apps
- Tap update
How to Update WhatsApp – iPhone and iOS
- On your Apple mobile device, go to the Apple app store
- Tap updates and refresh
- Scroll to WhatsApp and tap update
Michelle writes about cyber security, data privacy focusing on social media privacy as well as how to protect your IoT devices. She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years and owns METRONY, LLC. Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Michelle published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers