WhatsApp hijacking raises cybersecurity concerns

 thehindu.com  08/02/2020 13:01:00 

Deepa Lekshmi realised something was amiss when she found herself logged out of her WhatsApp profile. Little did she realise that her account in the social networking platform was hijacked by fraudsters who managed to gain access, though she had not parted with any sensitive information. A now-viral voice clip in which the victim, a teacher of a government school at Vaipur, Pathanamthitta, recounts her plight has renewed the focus on the dangers lurking within social networking platforms that have emerged the preferred medium for private conversations and even exchanging confidential information among large sections.

Ms. Deepa, a native of Kottayam, says she began to receive messages seeking verification codes to access her WhatsApp account during the last week of July. On July 29, she found herself unable to access her profile. She was apparently blocked and could not seek a verification code through SMS as many normally would do while logging in.

Obscene image

The problem took a turn for the worse when a colleague alerted me that my WhatsApp display picture was replaced with an obscene image. Around half-an-hour later, I began to receive calls from Hindi-speaking men who accused me of sending them pornographic content from my mobile with some even threatening legal action, she says. Left with no option, she decided to seek police assistance. Her local police station referred her to the Kottayam Police Cyber Cell where she lodged a complaint. An officer there advised her to reinstall the application and try to log in to her account. She managed to access her profile, this time through voice verification since the SMS option remained blocked.

Several victims

While there has not been any more calls from strangers, Ms. Deepa has decided to switch to a new phone number, fearing her present one could be vulnerable to more cyber threats. She said that after she put the voice message, several people, including college students, called her from Pathanamthitta and Wayanad saying that they too faced similar plights. While it was yet to receive any complaints, the Kerala Police Cyberdome have issued an advisory. All WhatsApp users have been urged to enable the two-step verification that will ensure that any attempt to log into accounts will require a six-digit PIN.

Pointing out that the chances of accounts getting hacked were remote unless a specific malware has been installed, Manoj Abraham, ADGP, Headquarters and Cyberdome nodal officer, says cell phone numbers could be hijacked through SIM swaps.

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