A group of security researchers from Ruhr University in Germany has revealed a security loophole in the end-to-end encrypted messaging app WhatsApp.
Speaking to Wired, one of the researchers said: "The confidentiality of the group is broken as soon as the uninvited member can obtain all the new messages and read them". According to the German researchers, the power of any WhatsApp group lies in WhatsApp servers and not the group admin.
Responding to the report, WhatsApp said, "We've looked at this issue carefully". "Existing members are notified when new people are added to a WhatsApp group". "WhatsApp is built so group messages can not be send to hidden users and provides multiple ways for users to confirm who receives a message prior to it being sent". The researchers recommend in their paper that summarizes their findings that users who rely on absolute privacy should stick to Signal or individual private messaging. "And if not, the value of encryption is very little", he added.
He adds: "The content of messages sent in WhatsApp groups remain protected by end-to-end encryption". As for Threema, there were smaller flaws that allowed an attacker who controls servers to replay messages or add users back into a group chat. Now WhatsApp is testing a feature, which will allow a particular admin to be demoted, instead of just removing them entirely from the group. In Signal's case, the same group chat attack in WhatsApp is also found in the app. It would appear as if the new member had the permission of the admin to join. This is claimed to indicate that your name has been mentioned four times in that specific WhatsApp group.
According to the researchers, the biggest weakness of the microblogging app is its extreme dependence towards servers that negates even the efforts that are made towards end-to-end encryption.
The idea behind encryption is to muddle your messages so only you and the recipient can read texts you send.
WhatsApp representatives told Wired there would be no fixes as a result of the research and that notifications of new chat additions are warning enough.
He says that users would be notified when a new person enters the group, which prevents "silent eavesdropping".
"While our investigation focuses on three major instant messaging applications, our methodology and the underlying model is of generic goal and can be applied to other secure group instant messaging protocols as well", researchers concluded in the paper.
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