Is WhatsApp safe to use?
Amazon’s CEO is alleged to have been hacked with a video sent via WhatsApp. The United Nations has stopped using the chat app for months due to security concerns. Is WhatsApp still safe to use? And how can someone be hacked via WhatsApp? Learn the answers to these and other pressing questions in this article.
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What exactly happened in the WhatsApp hack?
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ smartphone was allegedly hacked in 2018 after receiving a WhatsApp message from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The WhatsApp video Bin Salman sent to Bezos probably contained a virus that infected his phone.
After Bezos received the video, the phone leaked large amounts of data for months, according to an investigation of the phone. Private messages and explicit photos eventually ended up with an American tabloid that stated that Bezos was having an affair. Soon after, he and his wife announced that they were getting a divorce.
Why would Saudi Arabia want to hack Bezos?
Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince have good reason to blacken Bezos. Bezos owns the Washington Post, a newspaper critical of Saudi Arabia.
This criticism came, among others, from the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a columnist for the Washington Post. It is established that Khashoggi was tortured and killed by Saudi Arabia. But the Saudis continue to deny that it happened at the behest of Bin Salman. Khashoggi’s gruesome death is currently being investigated by United Nations human rights experts.
Remarkably enough, Bin Salman sent another WhatsApp message to Bezos with the message: neither he nor Saudi Arabia has anything against Bezos or his company Amazon.
How can a phone be hacked via WhatsApp?
WhatsApp, like any other app, has vulnerabilities. Malicious people can exploit these vulnerabilities to attack the target. In this case, Bezos’s phone would have been hacked using the rogue video file sent via WhatsApp. There may be a vulnerability in WhatsApp when receiving a video file that allowed access to the phone. This type of weakness can also be present in other chat apps.
Updates ensure that vulnerabilities in software are resolved. That’s why it’s always important to keep your devices and apps up to date. If your devices and apps are up-to-date, it is much more difficult for a hacker to break into you digitally.
Who can hack a phone via WhatsApp?
It is very difficult to hack a phone via WhatsApp. The majority of hackers can’t do this. There are companies that specialize in hacking phones via apps like WhatsApp: think of the Israeli NSO Group or the Italian Hacking Team.
These companies sell their hacking tools to governments and investigation services, who use them to hack targets. In 2015, the Dutch police had an appointment with the Hacking Team to possibly purchase their hacking tools.
Developing these hacking tools costs a lot of money, so – as far as it is known – they are only used by countries to hack important targets – and not average citizens. Bezos appears to be a very important target for Saudi Arabia, a country with the financial means to deploy this hacking tool.
The average cybercriminal does not have the (financial) means to gain access to such a hacking tool. So you don’t have to worry that you too will be a target of such a hack via WhatsApp.
Is WhatsApp still safe to use?
Yes! WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, so your messages are sent securely. So others can’t just see the messages you send to people.
What does pose a potential risk is that your chats are often automatically backed up to the cloud. There the messages are unencrypted. Someone who gains access to your cloud, for example, Google Drive or iCloud, can then view all your messages. You can turn this off via Settings> Chats> Chat backup or Backup chats.
WhatsApp belongs to Facebook, a company that is not known for its privacy-friendly past. Facebook collects metadata about WhatsApp users, such as who you communicate with, when and how often. Facebook cannot read the content of messages.