Think WhatsApp’s message encryption makes it secure? Here are several ways your WhatsApp can be hacked.
WhatsApp offers many security features like end-to-end encryption, for example, that try to keep your messages private. However, as good as these security measures are, WhatsApp still isn’t immune to hacks, which can end up compromising the privacy of your messages and contacts.
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Don’t take our word for it: just go and see how many “How to hack WhatsApp” guides you’ll find on the internet.
As knowing is half the battle, if we are simply aware of vulnerabilities, we can then take concrete steps to avoid comprising ourselves. To that end, here are the top ways through which WhatsApp can be hacked, which you should be wary of.
1. Remote Code Execution via GIF
In October 2019, security researcher Awakened revealed a vulnerability in WhatsApp that let hackers take control of the app using a GIF image. The hack works by taking advantage of the way WhatsApp processes images when the user opens the Gallery view to send a media file.
When this happens, the app parses the GIF to show a preview of the file. GIF files are special because they have multiple encoded frames. This means that code can be hidden within the image.
If a hacker were to send a malicious GIF to a user, they could compromise the user’s entire chat history. The hackers would be able to see who the user had been messaging and what they had been saying. They could also see users’ files, photos, and videos sent through WhatsApp.
The vulnerability affected versions of WhatsApp up to 2.19.230 on Android 8.1 and 9. Fortunately, Awakened disclosed the vulnerability responsibly, and then WhatsApp patched the issue. So, to avoid getting your WhatsApp hacked through such loopholes, make sure you get your WhatsApp updated regularly.
2. The Pegasus Voice Call Attack
Another WhatsApp vulnerability discovered in early 2019 was the Pegasus voice call malware hack.
This scary attack allowed hackers to access a device simply by placing a WhatsApp voice call to their target. Even if the target didn’t answer the call, the attack could still be effective. The target may not even be aware that malware has been installed on their device.
The hack worked through a method known as buffer overflow. This is where an attack deliberately puts so much code into a small buffer that it “overflows” and writes code into a location it shouldn’t be able to access. Naturally, when the hacker can run code in a location that should be secure, they can take further malicious steps.
After the first step, the attacker then installed an older and well-known piece of spyware called Pegasus that lets hackers collect data on phone calls, messages, photos, and videos. In fact, the spyware even lets them activate devices’ cameras and microphones to take recordings.
This vulnerability is applicable on Android, iOS, Windows 10 Mobile, and Tizen devices. It was used by the Israeli firm, NSO Group, for example, which has been accused of spying on Amnesty International staff and other human rights activists. After news of the hack broke out, WhatsApp security team updated the app to protect it from this attack.
If you are running WhatsApp version 2.19.134 or earlier on Android or version 2.19.51 or earlier on iOS, then make sure you have updated your app.
3. Socially Engineered Attacks
Look up any WhatsApp hacking guide, and you’d be hard-pressed to not encounter social engineering attacks, which exploit human psychology to steal data or spread misinformation.
Security firm, Check Point Research, revealed one such example of this attack, which they named FakesApp. In a fashion similar to other social-engineering scams, this attack worked by letting the hackers misuse the quote feature in a group chat and then alter the text of another person’s reply. Essentially, hackers could plant fake statements that appear to be from other legitimate users.
The researchers could do this by decrypting WhatsApp communications. This allowed them to see data sent between the mobile and the web versions of WhatsApp. From here, they could change values in group chats.
Then they could impersonate real people, sending messages that appeared to be from them. They could also change the text of replies. Naturally, this could be used in worrying ways to spread scams or fake news.
Even though the vulnerability was disclosed in 2018, it had still not been patched by the time the researchers spoke at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas in 2019, according to ZNet. It, therefore, becomes critical that you learn how to recognize WhatsApp scams and keep reminding yourself of these red flags periodically.
4. Media File Jacking
Media file jacking affects both WhatsApp and Telegram. This attack takes advantage of the way apps receive media files like photos or videos and write those files to a device’s external storage.
The attack starts by installing malware hidden inside an apparently harmless app. This counterfeit app can then monitor all incoming files on Telegram or WhatsApp. And when a new file comes in, the malware may easily swap out the real file for a fake one.
Symantec, the company that discovered the issue in 2019, suggested it could be used to scam people or to spread fake news. WhatsApp has since updated out many on-screen features and security definitions that make media jacking difficult.
That said, it’s a good idea to bring down the risk of media file jacking by turning off the feature that saves your media files into external storage. To do that, head to Settings > Chats and scroll down to the Chat settings options. From there toggle off the Media visibility option, and you will be set.
To stay even more mindful of the media files you download through your chats, you can also turn off the auto-download feature on WhatsApp. In fact, this is a good practice if you want to avoid media from unknown sources. Again, head to Settings and click on Storage and data. From the Media auto-download section, you can then disable auto-download for all media files for three different scenarios (Wi-Fi, Mobile data and Roaming).
5. Facebook Could Spy on WhatsApp Chats
In an official blog post, WhatsApp asserted that because of its end-to-end encryption technology, it is impossible for Facebook to read WhatsApp content.
Developer Gregorio Zanon stated in a Medium article that this is not strictly true. The fact that WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption does not mean all messages are private. On an operating system like iOS 8 and above, apps can access files in a “shared container.”
Both the Facebook and WhatsApp apps use the same shared container on devices. And while chats are encrypted when they are sent, they are not necessarily encrypted on the originating device. This means the Facebook app could potentially copy information from WhatsApp.
There is no evidence that Facebook has used shared containers to view private WhatsApp messages. But the potential is there. Even with end-to-end encryption, your messages may not be private from the all-capturing net of Facebook.
6. Paid Third-Party Apps
You’d be surprised how many paid legal apps have sprung up in the market, which solely exist for hacking into secure systems. It’s super easy to carry out covert WhatsApp hacks through this method.
Apps like Spyzie and mSPY can easily hack into your WhatsApp account to steal your private data. All you need to do is purchase the app, install it, and activate it on the target phone. You can then simply sit back and connect to your app dashboard from the web browser, and snoop in on private WhatsApp data.
Suffice it to say that we strongly advise everyone to refrain from actually using these apps for malicious purposes.
7. Fake WhatsApp Clones
Using fake website clones to install malware is an old hacking strategy still implemented by cybercriminals all over the world. These clone sites are known as malicious websites.
The illicit hacking tactic has now also been adopted for breaking into Android systems. To carry out a WhatsApp hack on your account, an attacker will try to install a clone of WhatsApp, which might look strikingly similar to the original app.
To protect yourself from this WhatsApp hack on your Android, therefore, it’s important that you don’t install any apps from untrustworthy sources.
8. WhatsApp’s Web Version
As handy as WhatsApp’s web version is, it can be easily used to hack into your WhatsApp chats. This danger particularly comes up when you’re using WhatsApp Web on someone else’s computer.
So, if you or the owner of the computer has selected the keep me signed in checkbox during login, then your WhatsApp account will stay signed in even after you’ve closed the browser. The computer owner can then access your information without much difficulty.
You can avoid this by making sure that you log out from WhatsApp Web before you leave, as well as un-checking the permanent sign-in checkbox.
But as they say, prevention is better than cure. Your best approach to avoid any unlawful account takeovers will be to avoid using anything other than your personal computer for the web version of WhatsApp altogether.
9. Exporting Your Chats
This isn’t the traditional method you’d find in the “how to hack someone’s WhatsApp” guides. This one simply requires physical access to your smartphone.
And no, the hacker doesn’t need a lot of time with your phone, either; just a few seconds is enough. This gives them enough time to export your messages to a location they can later access. It could be anything: an email account, cloud storage, or even a messaging app.
Once a hacker has access to your phone, all they have to do is move to a specific chat, click on the Export chat option, and select the location they’d like to move your message history to.
The solution? The ironclad way to protect yourself is to keep your phone away from unfamiliar hands at all times. Furthermore, you have the option to enable fingerprint lock for your WhatsApp. Here’s how:
- Head to Accounts > Privacy > Fingerprint lock.
- Toggle the Unlock with fingerprint option on, and set the lock activation to Immediately.
Now, every time your WhatsApp is picked up after inactivity, your fingerprints will be required to launch the app.
A keylogger is a software designed to record everything you type on your computer or smartphone. As you can probably guess, the hacker can use this for a variety of nefarious things, such as importing passwords, and essential information from documents or emails, etc. So if someone has managed to install a keylogger on your PC or smartphone, then it’s safe to assume your WhatsApp messages—like all your other personal information—have been covertly compromised by a hacker.
While a detailed discussion about keyloggers is out of the scope of this article, you can take some measures to protect yourself. For example, refraining from giving away your devices to people, using well-known antivirus programs, and regularly updating your device software are notable ways to protect yourself from a keylogger and avoid getting your WhatsApp messages hacked.
11. Call Forwarding Scams
A new WhatsApp calling scam has wreaked havoc in 2023, allowing hackers to compromise your WhatsApp account. The hack works by the hacker calling and convincing you to make a call to a number beginning with a Man Machine Interface (MMI) code, i.e., the numbers that begin with hash or star code. Usually, a 10-digit number also follows this code. For example, it will be a number like **67*<10 digit number> or *405*<10 digit number>.
As soon as you dial up the number, your phone’s call forwarding feature will be activated and all your calls will be sent to the attacker. It’s a fairly simple job for the hacker from here. All they have to do is re-register your account on WhatsApp through a phone call (instead of an OTP). It’s a severe security concern for WhatsApp.
So, make sure you don’t take up calls or perform any actions on calls from strangers who could perhaps be an online hacker. We also suggest you enable two-factor authentication and tighten up the security a little more. Above all, however, make sure you stay updated on the latest cyber-security trends and updates.
Stay Aware of Security Issues on WhatsApp
These are just a few examples of how your WhatsApp can be hacked. While WhatsApp has patched some of these issues since their disclosure, some weak spots persist, so it’s important to stay vigilant. To learn more about whether WhatsApp is safe, you need to brush up your knowledge of WhatsApp security threats.