WhatsApp Messages Can be Faked, Researchers Say

- August 9th, 2018

The findings from Check Point Software Technologies come at time when messaging platform WhatsApp is discovering new ways to combat fake news.

Amid WhatsApp’s battle with fake news, researchers from Check Point Software Technologies (NASDAQ:CHKP) have found a vulnerability in WhatsApp that allows hackers to alter messages. 

Check Point said on Thursday (August 9) that the vulnerability allows for three possible attack scenarios, including changing message content and/or the sender. The company says messages sent in both group and private conversations can be affected.

“Given WhatsApp’s prevalence among consumers, businesses, and government agencies, it’s no surprise that hackers see the application as a five-star opportunity for potential scams,” Oded Vanunu, Check Point’s head of product vulnerability, said in a press release.

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As mentioned, the findings from Check Point come at a time when WhatsApp, a product of Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), has been accused of spreading fake news in developing countries. 

In its release, Check Point outlines two incidents where the communication platform, which has 1 billion users in 180 countries around the world, has been used to spread misinformation.

One notable example is the recent lynchings and murders of innocent victims in India. Last week, Indian publication Live Mint summarized numerous messages that were spread through WhatsApp and that claimed the lives of 20 people. The Indian government has been aggressive on WhatsApp, with officials from the Modi government asking WhatsApp executives to focus on fake news rather than launching new services like a payments feature in India.

WhatsApp, which has over 200 million users in India, has introduced a number of new features to combat fake news, including the ability to identify whether a message is original or forwarded content.

Further, in a move that’s centric to India, WhatsApp has limited the ability to send forwards to only five users. However, India has asked its telecom operators for their views on blocking all Facebook applications in case of misuse.

Last month, Facebook suffered the largest drop in its history, with the company’s market cap losing US$120 billion following revelations that its growth rate will decelerate in the upcoming months. For the past couple of quarters, the company has credited India, along with Vietnam and Indonesia, as a country that is helping its user base growth.

In earnings calls for both Q1 and Q2, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would be building a strong ecosystem around its apps. “Over the next five years, we’re focused on building out the business ecosystem around messaging on WhatsApp and Messenger,” he said.

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Back in May, Zuckerberg said at the company’s annual shareholder meeting that people are in “love with the encryption features” on WhatsApp. Zuckerberg went on to reveal that almost 100 billion messages are sent on WhatsApp and Messenger platforms every day.

“People love the security and the encryption on WhatsApp. People really like the features and the ability to share in rich ways on Messenger. And we’re going to keep building those out as well,” Zuckerberg said.

Meanwhile, Check Point said its researchers have informed WhatsApp about their findings and that this vulnerability requires attention due to its critical nature.

Shares of Facebook closed the trading session on Thursday at US$183.09 and were down 1.13 percent over the one-day trading period. The stock has a “strong buy” ranking on TipRanks, with an analyst target price of US$207.09, a high estimate of US$275 and a low estimate of US$140.

On TradingView, the stock has a “sell” ranking with 13 verticals against, 10 in neutral and three in favor.

Meanwhile, shares of Check Point gained 0.41 percent to close the trading session on Thursday at US$113.81. TipRanks has a “hold” ranking on the stock with an analyst target price of US$115.23, a high estimate of US$132 and a low estimate of US$100.

Check Point has a “buy” ranking on TradingView with 14 verticals in favour, 10 in neutral and two against.

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Technology for real-time news updates.

Securities Disclosure: I, Bala Yogesh, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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