WASHINGTON- The Facebook deal for WhatsApp drew attention for its whopping price tag, but has also brought out fresh criticism over security for the billions of messages delivered on the platform.
WhatsApp, which is to be acquired for $19 billion, says on its website that “communication between your phone and our server is fully encrypted.”
The company warns users need to be aware that when they send messages, the recipient’s device may not be secure. But it says it does not store any chat history and that messages are wiped off its system after delivery.
Yet security researchers and others point out that there may be vulnerabilities in the system used by some 450 million people globally.
Paul Jauregui at the security firm Praetorian said in a blog post Thursday that WhatsApp security and encryption are not ideal, citing vulnerabilities in the way it handles SSL, the secure socket layer protocol for communications.
The group’s mobile security test “picked up on several SSL-related security issues affecting the confidentiality of WhatsApp user data that passes in transit to back-end servers,” Jauregui said.
“This is the kind of stuff the NSA (National Security Agency) would love. It basically allows them — or an attacker — to man-in-the-middle the connection and then downgrade the encryption so they can break it and sniff the traffic. These security issues put WhatsApp user information and communications at risk.”
Jauregui noted that Praetorian would need authorization from Facebook and WhatsApp to do a more thorough security evaluation.
He added that it would be “not very difficult” to patch the security flaws.