WhatsApp Security Flaw Leaves 'Trace of All Your Chats' Even After Deletion

by

whatsappPopular third-party chat app WhatsApp is leaving a "forensic trace" of every supposedly deleted chat log, meaning anyone with access to your smartphone -- or another device connected through the cloud -- could potentially access data from the app. The discovery comes from iOS researcher Jonathan Zdziarski, who shared the information in a blog post after discovering the potential security flaw in the latest version of WhatsApp (via The Verge).

Zdziarski tested out his theory by beginning a few chat threads, then archiving, clearing, and deleting them, but found that none of the app's deletion methods, even Clear All Chats, "made any difference in how deleted records were preserved." The central flaw appeared to be in the app's SQLite records, which retained the deleted chats in its database that could be accessed by a harmful individual with the right "popular forensics tools."

In his post, Zdziarski mentioned that the problem isn't unique to WhatsApp, and has even gone into detail about "forensic trace leakage" in Messages on iOS and OS X, and ways Apple could address such privacy issues, in a separate blog post. He explained succinctly that short-lived chats between friends and family using these apps are "not ephemeral on disk," which not only could be a cause for concern with users, but could allow law enforcement legal access to thought-to-be-deleted WhatsApp messages thanks to the lack of encrypted communication between WhatsApp and iCloud.

The core issue here is that ephemeral communication is not ephemeral on disk. This is a problem that Apple has struggled with as well, which I’ve explained and made design recommendations recently in this blog post.

Apple’s iMessage has this problem and it’s just as bad, if not worse. Your SMS.db is stored in an iCloud backup, but copies of it also exist on your iPad, your desktop, and anywhere else you receive iMessages. Deleted content also suffers the same fate.

All the same, Zdziarski caps his post by mentioning there's no reason for widespread panic to ignite because of the WhatsApp security flaw, mainly due to the fact that someone with malicious intent would need to jump through so many hoops to finally access the deleted messages. The iOS researcher stated that his purpose was for users to simply "be aware of WhatsApp’s footprint." He also gives a few options for users looking to mitigate the issue, including periodically deleting WhatsApp "to flush out the database," disabling iCloud backups, and avoiding the storage of backup passwords in Apple's keychain.

Earlier in the year, Apple reiterated its intent to double down on user privacy and safety within its iCloud platform. Currently, encrypted data saved in iCloud is accessible by Apple with a key, which grants it access to accounts for assistive purposes, like if someone forgets their password. However, with the steadily growing data amassing in users' iCloud accounts -- from texts to pictures and personal health data -- Apple is looking to provide end-to-end encryption in its cloud-based storage platform, meaning not even the company itself could gain access to the accounts of its users even if it wanted to.

Check out Zdziarski's blog post for more details on the issue.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
55 months ago
Whatsapp is a Facebook-owned company so yeah, security flaw.

Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
55 months ago
You know, the sad thing is, most commenters only read "WhatsApp, security flaw", but the problem is no spefici to Whatsapp, but the SQLite database.

Jonathan even wrote the same flaw exists in iMessage as well. But no... "it's facebook", "iMessage is better", "Don't trust facebook". Yeah there are valid arguments for all these claims, but this security leak is none of them.

Read the whole article at least before you foolishly bash another company.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
55 months ago
If only more people in my circle used Telegram over WhatsApp.

Even though I have to say, iMessage is still my favourite among the ones who own Apple devices, and I seem to talk to them more than the others. :D
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
55 months ago
It is just a systemic problem with databases in general. Programmers do not always contemplate or implement operations that remove entries from databases, sometimes because the data model is just not build that way. As a user, you almost never know how data is stored and how the application or websites handles deletion requests.

For real security, use open source. Signal or Telegram.

Avoid Telegram. Their encryption scheme is home-brewed and a few flaws have already been found, their server-side source code is closed-sourced and their company structure is dubious with a web of shell companies in jurisdictions that do not disclose full details. There is ample to find about Telegram that should make you sceptical, at least if you intend to use Telegram under the assumption that it offers ‘real security’.

Signal and Threema are definitely the more serious contenders.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
55 months ago

Whatsapp is a Facebook-owned company so yeah, security flaw.

"Zdziarski mentioned that the problem isn't unique to WhatsApp, and has even gone into detail about "forensic trace leakage" in Messages on iOS and OS X"
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
55 months ago

You know, the sad thing is, most commenters only read "WhatsApp, security flaw", but the problem is no spefici to Whatsapp, but the SQLite database.

Jonathan even wrote the same flaw exists in iMessage as well. But no... "it's facebook", "iMessage is better", "Don't trust facebook". Yeah there are valid arguments for all these claims, but this security leak is none of them.

Read the whole article at least before you foolishly bash another company.

This particular security flaw isn't specific to Whatsapp, but Facebook owning Whatsapp should tell you what level of privacy and security to expect of it.

iMessage still requires an actual intrusion.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iPhone 12 Pro in Graphite and iPhone 12 in Blue Shown Off in Unboxing Videos

Monday October 19, 2020 8:20 am PDT by
While the iPhone 12 Pro does not launch until Friday, we now have an early unboxing video of the device courtesy of Twitter account DuanRui, providing a closer look at the shiny new flat-edge design and sleek Graphite color option. Ben Geskin re-uploaded the unboxing video to YouTube, which we've embedded below: Geskin has also uploaded an unboxing video of the iPhone 12 in Blue: ...

Kuo: iPhone 12 Pro Demand Higher Than Expected

Sunday October 18, 2020 10:39 pm PDT by
TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo released a research note this morning detailing what he's seen with the volume of iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro pre-orders in the first weekend of sales. Kuo had previously indicated that Apple's estimated shipment allocations for the new iPhone models placed the iPhone 12 at the top with 40-45% of inventory allocation (up from 15-20%). However, ...

New Photos Offer Better Look at iPhone 12 Color Options

Tuesday October 20, 2020 2:34 am PDT by
As we wait for the iPhone 12 review embargo to lift later today, more pictures are circulating of the devices in real-world lighting conditions, providing a better look at the different colors available. Leaker DuanRui has shared images on Twitter of the iPhone 12 in white, black, blue, green, and (PRODUCT)RED. The black and white colors are similar to the iPhone 11 colors, but the other...

Hands-On With Apple's MagSafe Charger for iPhone 12

Monday October 19, 2020 11:54 am PDT by
Alongside the new iPhone 12 models, Apple introduced a MagSafe charger that attaches to the back of the iPhones using magnets embedded both in the charger and in the iPhone. It allows for speedier charging and paves the way for a portless iPhone in the future. MagSafe chargers are shipping out and are in some Apple retail locations now, and we picked one up to check it out. Subscribe to the ...

Some Apple Watch SE Owners Experiencing Issues With Overheating [Updated]

Monday October 19, 2020 11:38 am PDT by
There may be an issue with the new Apple Watch SE, which some users have found is overheating after a few hours of usage. Several Apple Watch SE owners in South Korea have run into problems, as noted in a Reddit post chronicling the complaints. There have been six reports from Apple Watch SE owners in South Korea who have had their Apple Watches get hot and malfunction, with a yellow spot...

Apple's New MagSafe Charger and Cases Begin Arriving to Customers

Saturday October 17, 2020 10:10 am PDT by
Apple's new MagSafe charger and cases have begun arriving to some customers earlier than expected, and images of the accessories have started to surface on Twitter. The photos provide a first look at the products in real-world use. As of writing, some MagSafe cases are also available for pickup at select Apple Stores in countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany. Filip...

Apple Releases iPadOS and iOS 14.1 With Multiple Bug Fixes Ahead of iPhone 12 Launch

Tuesday October 20, 2020 10:06 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 14.1, the first major updates to the iOS and iPadOS 14 operating system updates that were released in September. iOS and iPadOS 14.1 come a week after Apple released the golden master versions of the updates to developers. The iOS 14.1 update can be downloaded for free and it is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access...

Watch: iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Unboxing Videos and First Impressions

Tuesday October 20, 2020 6:05 am PDT by
Apple's embargo has lifted for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro reviews. In addition to our detailed review roundups for each device, we've rounded up over a dozen unboxing videos and first impressions below. iPhone 12 in Blue on left and iPhone 12 Pro in Pacific Blue on right via Engadget Key new features of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro include a flat-edge design, 5G support, a much faster A14 ...

Apple Plans to Enable 5G in Dual SIM Mode With Software Update Later This Year

Monday October 19, 2020 9:20 am PDT by
iPhone XS models and newer feature both a physical SIM slot and a digital eSIM, allowing for a feature known as dual SIM, dual standby. This means you can have two lines of service on one iPhone, which is useful for purchasing data-only plans while traveling abroad or having personal and business lines on a single iPhone. 5G will not be available in Dual SIM mode on the iPhone 12 and iPhone...

Brazilian Certifications Suggest iPhone 12 Mini Features 2,227mAh Battery and iPhone 12 Has 2,815mAh Battery

Friday October 16, 2020 1:08 pm PDT by
Apple's iPhone mini has the shortest battery life out of all the iPhones in the iPhone 12 lineup due to its small size, but Apple has not provided public information about the battery's capacity. A regulatory filing from Brazil, however, suggests the iPhone 12 mini has a battery capacity of 2,227mAh. The same regulatory information says the iPhone 12 features a 2,815mAh battery, which is...