Whether we like it or not, we all are a part of WhatsApp groups. Friends, family, work – there’s several of them. And no matter what, we won’t want any random person to have access to our chats, phone numbers and profile pictures.
Apparently, this is possible and WhatsApp group invite links and user profiles started showing up yet again on Google search results after the issue was previously resolved in 2020.
According to cybersecurity researcher Rajshekhar Rajaharia, WhatsApp groups that use links to allow users to enter, may once again be vulnerable to being found online via Google search. This means that anyone can join any WhatsApp group.
Your @WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are. WhatsApp Group Chat Invite Links, User Profiles Made Public Again on @Google Again.— Rajshekhar Rajaharia (@rajaharia) January 10, 2021
Story – https://t.co/GK2KrCtm8J#Infosec #Privacy #Whatsapp #infosecurity #CyberSecurity #GDPR #DataSecurity #dataprotection pic.twitter.com/7PvLYuM9xD
By allowing the indexing of group chat invites, WhatsApp is making several private groups available across the internet as their links can be accessed by anyone using a simple search query on Google, according to a report by Gadgets 360.
This isn’t the first time that this issue has happened. In November 2019, WhatsApp group chat invites were initially found on Google search results. The issue was reported to Facebook by a security researcher and it was resolved in February 2020.
Netizens do not find it safe to use WhatsApp and many of them have shifted to other messaging apps.
Ah, that’ll be why my notifications have exploded again… https://t.co/28tUquHUid— Jordan Wildon (@JordanWildon) January 11, 2021
This seems to have been fixed now but I am sure too much data was leaked by the time they fixed it. This is the second time @WhatsApp chats indexed on Google. https://t.co/JKek5mMl6t— Aniruddh Joshi (@AniruddhJoshi) January 11, 2021
And this happens again! https://t.co/mOdfnjvYJW— Dinakar Namburi (@DinakarNamburi) January 11, 2021
This is scary!!! https://t.co/mgNZj0Ga9N— Rahul V (@esearchmind) January 11, 2021
Your @WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are. WhatsApp Group Chat Invite Links, User Profiles Made Public Again on @Google Again. Download #Signal Now pic.twitter.com/0K5hhKf3hZ— Abass Kingi (@realKingiAcct) January 11, 2021
After the issue was reported, WhatsApp released a statement:
Since March 2020, WhatsApp has included the “noindex” tag on all deep link pages which, according to Google, will exclude them from indexing. We have given our feedback to Google to not index these chats. As a reminder, whenever someone joins a group, everyone in that group receives a notice and the admin can revoke or change the group invite link at any time. Like all content that is shared in searchable, public channels, invite links that are posted publicly on the internet can be found by other WhatsApp users. Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website.
Rajshekhar Rajaharia, the cybersecurity researcher who informed about the indexing issue, commented on the statement given by WhatsApp and said:
Adding the ‘noindex’ tag is not a proper solution as links surface again on search results in a a few months. Big tech companies like WhatsApp should look for a proper solution if they really care users’ privacy.
As per latest updates, the issues seems to have been resolved but its recurrence is a matter of concern for many.