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|14 May, 2019

That WhatsApp bug exposes our vulnerability, too

Privacy concerns have long plagued Facebook

Silhouettes of laptop and mobile device users are seen next to a screen projection of Whatsapp logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018.

Silhouettes of laptop and mobile device users are seen next to a screen projection of Whatsapp logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

A malevolent cyber-bug that instals itself in your handheld device remotely, without you getting a whiff of it. Just a missed call. Nothing less, nothing more. And your life is laid bare. It can track who you talk to and what you talk about. It can activate your mobile's camera and microphone. Your e-mails, chats, messages, pictures, data, calendar, even browser history. nothing is private anymore. It's out there for the nasties to exploit and fulfil their sinister motives. Sounds like a plot straight out of a spy-fi thriller, doesn't it? It isn't. It's as real as it gets, and is currently playing on the world's most preferred messenger app, no less.

A vulnerability discovered early May in the Facebook-owned WhatsApp allows malware to penetrate mobile phones with a simple missed voice call or two on the app, thus compromising the device. The app is used by no less than 1.5 billion users globally, making the so-called "buffer overflow vulnerability" a matter of grave concern. Updating the app will secure our devices for now, but it certainly isn't going to be the last update we're going to need. (If you haven't updated WhatsApp on your phone in the past two days, it'll be wise to do so tout de suite.)

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Privacy concerns have long plagued Facebook, and now they seem to be bugging its adopted child, too. This time, though, it wasn't a hand-in-glove operation (thankfully) - it was a vulnerability that was patched swiftly after being discovered. But it does once again bring to light the porous nature of our digital firewalls on the one hand and our growing apathy to such discoveries on the other. Our unmitigated dependence on these modern tools for communication, to stay in touch with our friends and family, and to get our daily dose of news, views and entertainment has somehow nudged us into a rather outlandish sense of complacency. So much that we've come to accept data breaches, password thefts and viruses/worms as part of the plot. It is this infatuation with apps, the addiction to devices and the obsession with technology that exposes our own vulnerabilities. Now let's look for a patch for that.

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