If you’re among the many people who delay updating the apps on your smartphone, ignoring the latest one from the free messaging service app WhatsApp may expose your phone and your personal information to hackers.
As first reported by The Financial Times, a security breach was found within WhatsApp that potentially allowed hackers to remotely install surveillance software on both iPhone and Android phones using the app.
The fix? WhatsApp, whose parent company Facebook has faced its own share of data breaches, is urging its 1.5 billion users worldwide to upgrade to the latest version of the software immediately, but so far has offered few details on the number of potential users affected.
“WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices,” the company said in a statement.
Who’s behind the WhatsApp security breach?
The Financial Times report suggests the malicious code that created the security vulnerability in WhatsApp can be traced back to a foreign-based group owned by the investment firm Francisco Partners. The company is known for creating a type of spy software with the capability of remotely accessing the microphone, camera and location data of targeted hardware, including smartphones.
A source of concern is the link between the group and various foreign government agencies that may be interested in the company’s technology for spying on certain suspects. What makes WhatsApp so appealing is its ability to offer end-to-end encryption for messages, which ensures that the people communicating are the only ones who can read what’s being sent.
For the typical WhatsApp user, the vulnerability of the app to hackers means that data and messages may be exposed to any bad actor who has access to the code or surveillance software.
How to keep your phone secure
While there is no bullet-proof solution to making your smartphone impervious to data breaches, some steps are available to better protect yourself:
- Keep software updated. Many security vulnerabilities affect older versions of software, so tech companies routinely issue updates to their apps to address real—and potential—security threats. You’ll also want to keep your operating system up to date. Enable automatic software updates to avoid having to do this manually.
- Install anti-virus software. While most computer users have some form of anti-virus software, only 32% of smartphone users have anti-virus software installed on their smartphones, according to Pew Research.
- Don’t overlook this low-tech precaution. A piece of sticky tape over the camera hole of a smartphone should prevent spy software from actually seeing anything through the lens.
And if you suspect your personal data may have been exposed in this or any other breach, you can check here and then take the necessary steps to protect yourself.