Home News Science&Tech Jeff Bezos hack teaches us how WhatsApp is (un)safe

Jeff Bezos hack teaches us how WhatsApp is (un)safe

5 min read

In 2018, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos received a WhatsApp message from a remarkable sender: a 4.4 MB video from none other than Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince. The result? The iPhone of the richest man on earth rapidly leaked an enormous amount of information.

According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the crown prince supposedly sent this. Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post, an American newspaper that regularly criticizes Saudi Arabia. In the meantime, the United Nations (UN) is calling for an immediate investigation into the involvement of Bin Salman. The UN also advises employees not to use the app because it would not be safe.

The question now arises: how could this happen? And how safe is it to actually use WhatsApp yourself?

The video probably infected the WhosApp account of Bezos with a virus

According to UN experts, the Saudis have bought Pegasus malware. This virus reads which keys you use on your phone, listens to audio, takes screenshots and is also able to read e-mails. In other words, the ideal combination for hackers to find out what someone sends via WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter, for example.

After Bezos had received and opened the video, the virus was given free rein. For example, an average of around 430 kilobytes of data per day came from Bezos’ telephone, a normal amount. In the months following the infection this rose to an average of 101 megabytes per day, which is almost 250 times as much and clearly indicates an infection.

Is it still safe to use WhatsApp yourself?

Yes, there is no reason to panic. First, it is not easy to penetrate phones via Whatsapp. Because the app is encrypted with end-to-end encryption, your messages are sent securely. Others cannot see what you are sending; not WhatsApp itself either.

Moreover, average home-garden-and-kitchen hackers are unable to penetrate via WhatsApp. The special hack tools that make this possible are very expensive. Companies that specialize in this to hack important targets are, for example, the Israeli NSO Group or the Italian Hacking Team. The average user does not have to worry. Kind of.

This does not mean that WhatsApp is 100 percent safe. This actually does not apply to an app, so WhatsApp is also not inviolable. Encryption does not prevent hackers from hiding a code in the app. In addition, your chats in the cloud are often automatically backed up – a place where they are stored in unencrypted form. You can disable this automatic copy yourself via settings within the app.

What else you can do to secure your account

It is not certain whether Bezos has opened the video, or that just receiving was enough to get the malware. This is because videos are automatically downloaded due to the default settings. You can also turn this off yourself. In addition, it is wise to set up a two-step verification and not to use an obvious code for your voicemail; hackers can also hijack your account via your voicemail.

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