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How hackers use WhatsApp to spread scams and fake news

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Edited by Fundisiwe Maseko

Check Point researchers have discovered a vulnerability in WhatsApp that allows a threat actor to intercept and manipulate messages sent by those in a group or private conversation. By doing so, attackers can put themselves in a position of immense power to not only steer potential evidence in their favour, but also create and spread misinformation.

The vulnerability so far allows for three possible attacks:

1. Changing a reply from someone to put words into their mouth that they did not say.
2. Quoting a message in a reply to a group conversation to make it appear as if it came from a person who is not even part of the group.
3. Sending a message to a member of a group that pretends to be a group message but is in fact only sent to this member. However, the member’s response will be sent to the entire group.

Make It Go Viral

As of early 2018, the Facebook-owned messaging application currently has over 1.5 billion users with over one billion groups and 65 billion messages sent every day. According to a report by global digital agencies, mobile users accounted for 172 million, most of whom used only two Facebook-owned platforms: WhatsApp and Messenger.

In addition, WhatsApp also has plans to roll out additional functionalities for businesses to help them do commerce and manage customer support through the app. Vulnerabilities such as the ones described above make the potential opportunities for scamming rife.

WhatsApp with the Fake News?

Due to its very nature of being an easy and quick way to communicate, WhatsApp has already been at the center of a variety of scams. From fake supermarket and airline giveaways to election tampering, threat actors never tire of ways to manipulate unsuspecting users.

In fact, the ability to social engineer on a mass scale was already seen at a level where even people’s lives were at stake. In Brazil, rumors quickly spread on WhatsApp about the dangers of receiving a yellow fever vaccine – the very thing that could have stopped an epidemic of the deadly virus during its 2016 rampage that infected 1500 people and killed almost 500.

More recently, last month vicious rumors, also spread via WhatsApp, led to a spate of lynching and murders of innocent victims in India.

Read Also: WhatsApp makes first move to charge business users

WhatsApp is also taking an increasingly central role in elections, especially in developing countries. Earlier this year, again in India, WhatsApp was used to send messages, some of which were completely false.

Ultimately, social engineering is all about tricking the user and manipulating them to carry out actions they will later regret. With an ability to manipulate replies, invent quotes or send private messages pretending to be group ones, as seen in this research, scammers would have a far greater chance of success and have yet another weapon in their arsenal.

What’s more, the larger the WhatsApp group, where a flurry of messages are often sent, the less likely a member would have the time or inclination to double check every message to verify its authenticity, and could easily be taken in by the information they see. As already seen by spam emails that fake the sender’s name to appear to be from a source the receiver trusts, this latest vulnerability would allow for similar methods to be used though from a totally different attack vector.

How to Protect Yourself from Misinformation

While there are no security products that can yet protect users from these types of deceptions, there are several ideas to keep in mind to avoid being a victim of fake news, conspiracy theories and online scams in general.

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. And likewise, if something sounds too ridiculous to be true, it probably is.

Misinformation spreads faster than the truth. Although you may be seeing the same news from multiple sources, this does not make it more factual than were it to come from a single source.

Check your ‘facts’. It is recommended to cross check what you see on social media with a quick online search to see what others may be saying about the same story. Or even better, do not get more of your news from social media websites at all.

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Ghana’s agrotech startup, FLUID, launches platform to help small scale farmers access to credit

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Ghana’s agrotech startup, FLUID, has successfully launched a new platform that will help small scale farmers access to loans, according to founder and CEO, Moustapha Seck.

Founded in January, 2020, to give fillip to local farmers who had no access to loan and credit facilities, Seck said the company has already signed a 12-month contract with a local bank to provide financing to 25,000 farmers in Northern Ghana.

“We penetrated the Ghanaian financial industry through research first. In October 2020, we partnered with 29 financial institutions to study the challenges in the rural banking space,” Seck said while announcing the launch of the platform.

“Through this engagement, we developed FLUID SafeSusu, a mobile application to create bank accounts and track savings deposits in rural areas without connectivity,” Seck, who left his job at the Canadian investment fund, Clearco, to pursue his goal of helping the poorest Africans access financial services, said.

He added that the FLUID SafeSusu platform has piloted with four banks and connected 26,000 bank accounts to its platform, with an investment fund base of $200,000 in savings deposits.

“Our research led us to discover that half of Ghanaians work in agriculture, but only 4.6 per cent of loans go to farming. This disparity leaves close to 12.5 million smallholders farmers in Ghana financially excluded.”

“While banks use many different technology providers to be closer to the field, only FLUID and AgroCenta, to our knowledge, focus on the huge market of smallholder financing. FLUID stands alone in its focus on mitigating risks for the bank and the farmer,” he added.

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South African tech startup, Peachz, launches foremost online store for mobile accessories

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South Africa’s tech startup, Peachz, has launched an online mobile accessories market place, six months after its formation.

According to its founder and CEO, Tali Flax, the startup is aiming to become the country’s foremost online tech and mobile accessories retailer with its current stocks of sophisticated and a variety of phone mounts and holders for the desk, car or motorcycle, including Aux cables, Type C and A cables, and Mifi-certified iPhone cables.

“Peachz aims to make shopping for well-priced, durable products online “peachy”, with that early uptake has been beyond expectation,” Flax said.

The Johannesburg-based startup, according to the CEO, is “committed to providing the best quality and prices within its sector”, with the understanding that customers should only have to purchase an accessory once.

“It’s frustrating replacing a charging cable every six months – regardless of whether it was expensive or not. We are so confident about the reliability and durability of our products that we offer a 12-month money-back guarantee,” said Flax.

Peachz is off to a promising start, which I believe indicates the strong demand for high-quality accessories that perform as well as the electronic devices for which they are designed. We will continue to listen and cater to market needs,” he added.

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