Hackers are using fake messages to break into WhatsApp accounts

WhatsApp chat on a smartphone screen

WhatsApp users have been warned of a scam that involves a hard-to-spot malicious message that appears to come from someone on your contact list.

The scam works when hackers send a user a code via text on their smartphone, followed by a WhatsApp message from someone on their contact list. When the “friend” asks the recipient to share the code, the hacker can easily access their WhatsApp account.

Researchers observed similar attacks earlier this year, but it seems users are once more in hackers’ sights.

Burak Agca, a security engineer at Lookout, told ITPro the incident reflects how easy it is for attackers to acquire users' first factor of authentication, username, and password.

“Messaging apps present a number of challenges to individuals and corporate data security. The rise of significant data breaches across high profile organizations is providing threat actors with vast pools of user accounts to exploit via phishing attacks on messaging apps using those stolen credentials,” Agca said.


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“Added to that, we see seismic events like the pandemic driving mobile device usage, and high-profile incidents such as the personal information of members of Parliament from the UK Conservative party app in recent years, further exacerbating the issue.”

Agca added that iOS and Android devices had harbored a significant security gap recently, creating a lack of protection from exposure to malicious links across emails, web pages, apps, SMS, and WhatsApp.

“That gap led to a proliferation of 'surveillanceware' delivered via exploitation of messaging server infrastructure, chained with mobile app and operating system vulnerabilities, resulting in a catastrophic failure in the onboard security measures in place. On average, 40% of versions of WhatsApp used by enterprises are vulnerable. That represents a significant gap in mobile security where patch management solutions focused on mobile devices are not in place,” said Agca.

The news comes as Check Point researchers warned of a new type of malware in the Google Play store that can automatically reply to all incoming WhatsApp messages with messages containing malicious links or text.

By replying to incoming WhatsApp messages with a payload from a command-and-control (C&C) server, a hacker could distribute phishing attacks, spread further malware, spread false information, or steal credentials and data from users’ WhatsApp accounts and conversations.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.