WhatsApp contact numbers of around 487 million users have been leaked and put on sale on a popular hacking community forum. That’s about 24% of the messaging app’s 2 billion monthly active users. The hacker announced that whoever purchased the dataset would get the latest numbers of WhatsApp users from 84 countries. According to reports, the WhatsApp data leak contains phone numbers of more than 32 million users from the US, 11 million from the UK, 6 million from Germany, 20 million from France, 35 million from Italy, 10 million from Russia, 14 million from Africa, 29 million from Saudi Arabia, 20 million from Turkey, and 45 million from Egypt.
Independent technology website Cybernews published the report first, claiming that it had investigated the sample of the dataset uploaded by the hacker. It verified that around 1,914 phone numbers indeed belonged to WhatsApp users from the US and the UK, as the hacker said. The report also highlighted the cost of each dataset. The US dataset was on sale for 7,000 USD, the UK for 2,500 USD, and Germany for 2,000 USD.
WhatsApp Data Leak Raises Concerns for Security
The hacker did not explain how he obtained such a massive amount of WhatsApp data. The parent company, Meta, has denied the report, saying that the Cybernews article was based on “unsubstantiated screenshots” and that there was “no evidence” of the WhatsApp data leak. The development came a week after an internal document revealed that Meta fired/disciplined employees for allegedly hacking into users’ Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Concerns are rising as bad actors can use such information for social engineering attacks like phishing, smishing and vishing. These are common types of fraudulent activities that trick users into providing personal information or money using the web, SMS, or voice. Experts have advised users to remain vigilant and not respond to requests from unsolicited calls and SMS. The creator of Binance, Changpeng Zhao, also warned his followers by sharing a screenshot of the dataset uploaded on the hacking forum.
How to Check if Your Data is Leaked?
A lot of users will be curious to know if this WhatsApp data leak affected them somehow. Cybernews has also provided users with a way to check whether their number is among the leak. It can be done by visiting the Cybernews website and clicking “Personal data leak checker” under the Tools tab. Users can enter thier phone number or email address in the given search field and click “check now”. The result will reveal whether that number or email has been leaked.
What to Do if Your Data is Leaked?
If the users find thier number or email in the search results, there are only a few simple steps to follow. In the case of numbers, then as advised above, users must refrain from answering calls from suspicious sources and avoid clicking links in messages. If there are email ids, then users must change thier passwords so that nobody can access the accounts with leaked ones.
The WhatsApp data leak is not surprising as the world is already aware of the security flaws in all Meta platforms. The tech giant has been facing backlash for ages over the same vulnerabilities. Hackers often obtain private user data by exploiting Facebook’s weak contact importer feature, which allows users to add friends from thier phone’s address book. Moreover, the platform enables third parties to scrape data, as seen in the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018. Recently, in April 2021, the data of around 533 million Facebook users from 108 countries were available for free on a dark web forum. Hackers also did this by exploiting the weakness in Meta’s contact importer feature.