WhatsApp attackers can secretly add new members to group chats, research finds
12 January, 2018, 03:29 | Author: Brenda Erickson
Researchers said the flaw in WhatsApp can allow anyone who controls the platform's servers to add new people into a private group without needing permission from the group chat's administrator to enter the conversation.
Here's how WhatsApp group messaging works: membership is maintained by the server.
According to a report in Wired.com, the cryptographers from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany announced this at the "Real World Crypto Security Conference" in Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
And Facebook's Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos took to Twitter to rubbish the claims. However, there appears to be a simple bug in WhatsApp's group mechanism. "If I hear there's end-to-end encryption for both groups and two-party communications, that means adding of new members should be protected against. It's why we collect very little information and all messages sent on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted", the spokesperson added. But it has become hard for WhatsApp to keep up the security standards, most importantly when it comes to group chats. It cited the researchers as saying that anyone who controls WhatsApp'sservers could effortlessly insert new people into an otherwise private group. That immediately limits the potential of the exploit to employees, sophisticated hackers or governments who can convince the firm to give them access - but the risk is still there, and rather negates the value of WhatsApp's encryption.
As per the research, Signal and WhatsApp fail to properly authenticate that who is adding a new member to the group and it is possible for an unauthorized person, who is not even a member of the group, to add someone to the group chat. The server then checks that the user is authorized to administer that group, and (if so), it sends a message to every member of the group indicating that they should add that user. If they add themselves to the group: 1. Although participants will be notified about the new addition, with full control of the thread the attacker can choose to block messages about it.
"The confidentiality of the group is broken as soon as the uninvited member can obtain all the new messages and read them..." The flaw takes advantage of an issue in how WhatsApp handles group chats. One example attack posited that former members of groups could record the group ID and use that for future attacks.
The objective of having an end-to-end encryption is to stop trusting the intermediate servers in such a way that even the company or the server that transmits the data can decrypt the messages or abuse the centralized position.
WhatsApp said that the "group invitation bug" is a theoretical danger that's additionally minimized by the fact that users will receive a notification about a new user joining the group. The attackers might send spoofed messages in order to prevent the administrator from removing spy from the private conversation.
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