Major Security Hack Means It’s Time to Update or Re-Install WhatsApp

WhatsApp is one of the most ubiquitous and popular instant messenger apps these days, and it’s fair to say that there’s likely hundreds of thousands of people who have it installed on their smartphone and make frequent use of it. Well, no one’s about to tell you should stop doing so if you’re one of them, but it turns out that you may want to update it manually now – or perhaps even better delete and re-install it – due to recent developments that have just now gotten out into the media.

Part of being a good Canadian web hosting provider is giving clients a heads up on such developments, and that describes 4GoodHosting to a tee if we may say so ourselves. Often times these sorts of things aren’t quite ‘newsworthy’ in that sense, but again considering how common WhatsApp is these days we decided to make it our topic for the week.

Right then. So, despite encrypting every conversation and following best security practices, WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook for those of you who care about those things) it seems has been the victim of a cyber attack.

It recently announced that it found a vulnerability that was allowing shady types to infect WhatsApp users with spyware when they made – or even attempted to make – a call using the app.

No Answer – No Problem

Now most people aren’t ones to take notes of character and number chains, but it would seem this this WhatsApp vulnerability is going by CVE-2019-3568. What makes it especially noteworthy is that it allows attackers to infect the device, and have success doing so even if the user at the other end receiving the call didn’t answer it.

The means by which these nefarious individuals did this was by exploiting a buffer overflow weakness in the app, one that enables them to hack into WhatsApp before doing the same on the device running the app.

When asked about it, the security team at WhatsApp chose to refer to it as an ‘advanced cyber actor’ – a rare but very dangerous type of cyberattack. It is different from other malware attacks that are done with the more standard ‘phishing’ approaches. If it were of a more ordinary version of this type, the phishing nature of it would mean that the individual on the other end would need to answer the call in order for the infection to be complete.

As mentioned, however, attackers can use spyware to exploit the devices – even if the users don’t receive the call.

Right, onto the potential repercussions of any such attack. They can result in cybercriminals gaining access to personal data stored on the phone. Further, it could allow them to modify things or lock the mobile before demanding a ransom from the users.

If you’re reading this and you’ve yet to receive any ransom notes for a unexplainably locked device or any other similar red flag, you’re likely okay but you should go ahead and delete and reinstall WhatsApp. Interestingly enough, I just got a new Android phone the other day and so I was installing WhatsApp quite literally at the same time I was reading this news. So unless you’re in a similar scenario, you should definitely be looking for an available update at the very least (and make sure it’s a very recent one)

These WhatsApp versions were vulnerable to the spyware attack:

  • WhatsApp for Android prior to v2.19.134
  • WhatsApp Business for Android prior to v2.19.44
  • WhatsApp for Windows Phone prior to v2.18.348
  • WhatsApp for iOS prior to v2.19.51
  • WhatsApp Business for iOS prior to v2.19.51
  • WhatsApp for Tizen prior to v2.18.15

Go Get ‘Em

It’s been reported that WhatsApp responded to the attack without delay and said the only became aware of the vulnerability some time earlier this month. Within 10 days of realizing the breach, WhatsApp released a server-side fix to mitigate the attack. It’s understood, however, that many WhatsApp users were already potentially exposed to the attack before the fix was issued.

In addition, WhatsApp is also releasing an update to the mobile app as of today (Monday, May 20th) that should help squash similar cyber attacks for the foreseeable future. Along with the patch they have asked all users to update the app to the latest version while also ensuring their operating system is equally as updated.

Off you go and update your WhatsApp if it’s part of the indispensable array of apps you use on your device day in and out.

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