WhatsApp data leak: Nearly 500mn phone numbers up for sale
WhatsApp, the world's most popular instant messaging platform, is considered fairly safe with its end-to-end encryption. Well, let's not jump to conclusions quickly. Nearly 500 million phone numbers of WhatsApp users available for purchase on a well-known hacking community forum might say otherwise. According to Cybernews, an actor has posted an ad to sell a list of WhatsApp data from 84 countries.
Why does this story matter?
- In the modern world, data is more valuable than anything. The person who holds sensitive data inherits a lot of power.
- Therefore, it becomes very important that those companies who hold data, with whom people entrust their private information, take every step to ensure that the data is safe.
- It seems that Meta hasn't learned from its 533 million users' data leak this year.
The threat actor is selling datasets from different countries
In the listing, the seller is selling WhatsApp mobile numbers of 487 million users. Out of them, 32 million are from the US, the actor said. The dataset also has 45 million phone numbers from Egypt, 11 million from the UK, and 6.1 million from India. One can buy the US dataset for $7,000, while the UK dataset costs $2,500.
The data could have been obtained by scraping
It isn't clear how the seller obtained the data. They reportedly obtained the database using their own strategy. It could also be scraping through which the seller obtained the database. In coding lingo, scraping is harvesting information at scale and in this case, it is violative of WhatsApp's terms of service. Meta has often been criticized for letting third parties scrape user data.
What is data scraping?
Data scraping or web scraping is a process of extracting information from a website into spreadsheets or files. Data scraping tools are used for various purposes, both legal and malicious. Its malicious uses include harvesting email addresses and exposing sensitive information. In this case, the data can be used for marketing purposes, phishing, impersonation, and fraud.
WhatsApp denies any data breach
In response to Cybernews' report about the data leak, WhatsApp said, "The claim written on Cybernews is based on unsubstantiated screenshots. There is no evidence of a 'data leak' from WhatsApp." "The purported list is a set of phone numbers and not WhatsApp user information," the company added. However, Cybernews has confirmed that the listed numbers belong to WhatsApp profiles.
Details of 533 million Facebooks users were leaked last year
WhatsApp's parent Meta is no stranger to large-scale privacy slips. Last year, the personal information of 533 million Facebook users emerged on a hacking website. The leaked information included users' email addresses and phone numbers. Threat actors used data scraping to obtain the database then. Last month, the Irish Data Protection Commission submitted its draft decision about the data breach to its EU counterparts.