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Security & privacy

Update now! One call in this Facebook app gives hackers access to your entire phone

Another day, another hack. At least, that’s what it seems like this year. After multiple high-profile security failures in the past few months, it’s looking like hackers are winning the war on our data — with few real protections to stand in their way. At this point in time, our best defense is to double down on our own security measures, be stingy with what we share online, and stay within the bounds of trusted applications.

Even these steps, however, might not be enough. In a shocking turn of events, one of the most popular communication apps on the internet was hijacked by hackers. Using sophisticated spyware tools, they were able to compromise countless phones without anyone noticing.

Now, they might have access to data stored on affected devices — making this a privacy nightmare for the ages.

While there are many steps you can take to protect yourself from hackers, the fact that they are corrupting well-known apps demands a serious re-evaluation of which places are safe online. Or, for that matter, whether it’s even worth keeping data on your device.

This hack is huge, it potentially impacts all 1.5 billion users around the world!

What app was affected by hackers?

The insanely popular WhatsApp, owned and run by Facebook of all companies, has fallen victim to a complex phishing operation using some of the most advanced spyware on the planet. The hackers used a tool developed by NSO, a privately owned “cyberweapons” dealer based in Israel.

This company is responsible for the Pegasus app, which governments like Saudi Arabia have used to spy on dissidents. Some of Pegasus’ functions include wiretaps, password collection, and location monitoring. It’s unknown who NSO sold the cyberweapon to, and for what purpose.

According to a report from the Financial Times, hackers were able to compromise WhatsApp using a security hole in the software’s calling feature. By calling out to a number, the app was able to embed itself into a victim’s phone. Worst of all, the victim doesn’t even need to pick up for the spyware to take root!

Once inside a device, hackers have total access to private messages, location data, and other private information. So far, it’s unknown what the hackers are doing with the data, but in similar situations, victims have found their private information held for ransom or posted for sale on the dark web.

What can I do to defend myself against this WhatsApp hack

Facebook is advising WhatsApp users to immediately upgrade to the latest version of the software, which has apparently patched the security hole that lets the hackers in. In addition to the app, Facebook is telling users to upgrade their operating systems as an extra precaution. This can eliminate any OS related factors that might be in play for cybercriminals.

Besides software troubleshooting, we’d recommend paying extra attention to calls that are coming through to WhatsApp. While the patch gets rid of the hackers’ ability to hijack if you don’t pick up, answering an unknown call can still put you at risk. We would highly advise you to ignore these kinds of calls for the near future.

Hackers are scary enough on their own, but when businesses start developing dangerous tools for criminals and governments to inflict on citizens, it might be time to start worrying. Say what you will about flip-phones, but at least nobody is hijacking those anymore!

For an added layer of protection, it’s a good idea to backup your data. We recommend using our sponsor, IDrive.

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