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WhatsApp is testing a self-destructing messages feature

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WhatsApp users may soon get the ability to have their messages self-destruct after a set period of time. That’s according to a highly-reliable tipster who spotted the feature combing through the code of a beta version of the app.

Twitter user WABetaInfo said on Tuesday that the recently released public beta of WhatsApp for Android — dubbed v2.19.275 — includes an optional feature that would allow users to set their messages to self-destruct.

The ability to have messages disappear forever after a fixed amount of time could come in handy to users who share sensitive information with friends and colleagues on the app. It’s one of the most popular features on instant messaging client Telegram, for instance.

Image: WABetaInfo

Telegram offers a “secret chat” feature wherein users can engage with each other and their messages disappear from their devices after a set amount of time. The messaging platform says it does not store the text on its servers and restricts users from forwarding the messages, or take a screenshot of the conversation, to ensure there is “no trail” of the texts.

“All secret chats in Telegram are device-specific and are not part of the Telegram cloud. This means you can only access messages in a secret chat from their device of origin. They are safe for as long as your device is safe in your pocket,” it explains.

Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, also offers a “secret chat” feature on its Messenger app. But there, the secret chat feature only encrypts end-to-end messages and media content shared between two users. On WhatsApp, messages between users are end-to-end encrypted by default.

Currently, WhatsApp is testing the feature in a group setting that supports participation from multiple individuals. Messages could be set to self-destruct as soon as five seconds after they have been sent and as late as an hour. Additionally, an image shared by WABetaInfo shows that group administrators will have the ability to prevent other participants in the group from texting.

Some third-party WhatsApp apps have allowed self-destructing messages feature in the past. But in recent years, WhatsApp has started to crack down on third-party services to ensure safety of its users. WhatsApp is used by more than 1.5 billion users each month.

It remains unclear how soon — if ever — WhatsApp plans to roll out this feature to all its users. We have reached out to them for comment.

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Chrome “Feed” is tantalizing, but it’s not the return of Google Reader

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Enlarge / Digging into bleeding-edge Chrome code has made some bloggers hopeful, but Google has been focused on its own feeds for a while now. (credit: Getty Images)

Does Google enjoy teasing and sometimes outright torturing some of its products’ most devoted fans? It can seem that way.

Tucked away inside a recent bleeding-edge Chrome build is a “Following feed” that has some bloggers dreaming of the return of Google Reader. It’s unlikely, but never say never when it comes to Google product decisions.

Chrome added a sidebar for browsing bookmarks and Reading List articles back in March. Over the weekend, the Chrome Story blog noticed a new flag in Gerrit, the unstable testing build of Chrome’s open source counterpart Chromium. Enabling that #following-feed-sidepanel flag (now also available in Chrome’s testing build, Canary) adds another option to the sidebar: Feed.

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1,900 Signal users’ phone numbers exposed by Twilio phishing

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Enlarge / Signal’s security-minded messaging app is dealing with a third-party phishing attempt that exposed a small number of users’ phone numbers.

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A successful phishing attack at SMS services company Twilio may have exposed the phone numbers of roughly 1,900 users of the secure messaging app Signal—but that’s about the extent of the breach, says Signal, noting that no further user data could be accessed.

In a Twitter thread and support document, Signal states that a recent successful (and deeply resourced) phishing attack on Twilio allowed access to the phone numbers linked with 1,900 users. That’s “a very small percentage of Signal’s total users,” Signal writes, and all 1,900 affected users will be notified (via SMS) to re-register their devices. Signal, like many app companies, uses Twilio to send SMS verification codes to users registering their Signal app.

With momentary access to Twilio’s customer support console, attackers could have potentially used the verification codes sent by Twilio to activate Signal on another device and thereby send or receive new Signal messages. Or an attacker could confirm that these 1,900 phone numbers were actually registered to Signal devices.

No other data could be accessed, in large part because of Signal’s design. Message history is stored entirely on user devices. Contact and block lists, profile details, and other user data require a Signal PIN to access. And Signal is asking users to enable registration lock, which prevents Signal access on new devices until the user’s PIN is correctly entered.

“The kind of telecom attack suffered by Twilio is a vulnerability that Signal developed features like registration lock and Signal PINs to protect against,” Signal’s support document reads. The messaging app notes that while Signal doesn’t “have the ability to directly fix the issues affecting the telecom ecosystem,” it will work with Twilio and other providers “to tighten up their security where it matters for our users.”

Signal PINs were introduced in May 2020, in part to de-emphasize the reliance on phone numbers as a primary user ID. This latest incident may provide another nudge to de-couple Signal’s strong security from the SMS ecosystem, where cheap, effective spoofing and broad network hacks remain all too common.

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Update Zoom for Mac now to avoid root-access vulnerability

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Enlarge / A critical vulnerability in Zoom for Mac OS allowed unauthorized users to downgrade Zoom or even gain root access. It has been fixed, and users should update now.

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If you’re using Zoom on a Mac, it’s time for a manual update. The video conferencing software’s latest update fixes an auto-update vulnerability that could have allowed malicious programs to use its elevated installing powers, granting escalated privileges and control of the system.

The vulnerability was first discovered by Patrick Wardle, founder of the Objective-See Foundation, a nonprofit Mac OS security group. Wardle detailed in a talk at Def Con last week how Zoom’s installer asks for a user password when installing or uninstalling, but its auto-update function, enabled by default, doesn’t need one. Wardle found that Zoom’s updater is owned and runs as the root user.

The gist of how Zoom's auto-update utility allows for privilege escalation exploits, from Patrick Wardle's Def Con talk.
Enlarge / The gist of how Zoom’s auto-update utility allows for privilege escalation exploits, from Patrick Wardle’s Def Con talk.

It seemed secure, as only Zoom clients could connect to the privileged daemon, and only packages signed by Zoom could be extracted. The problem is that by simply passing the verification checker the name of the package it was looking for (“Zoom Video ... Certification Authority Apple Root CA.pkg“), this check could be bypassed. That meant malicious actors could force Zoom to downgrade to a buggier, less-secure version or even pass it an entirely different package that could give them root access to the system.

Some of Wardle’s findings had been patched in a prior update, but key root access was still available as of Wardle’s talk on Saturday. Zoom issued a security bulletin the same day, and a patch for version Zoom 5.11.5 (9788) followed soon after. You can download the update directly from Zoom or click on your menu bar options to “Check for updates.” We wouldn’t suggest waiting for an automatic update, for multiple reasons.

Zoom’s software security record is spotty—and at times, downright scary. The company settled with the FTC in 2020 after admitting that it lied for years about offering end-to-end encryption. Wardle previously revealed a Zoom vulnerability that let attackers steal Windows credentials by sending a string of text. Prior to that, Zoom was caught running an entire undocumented web server on Macs, causing Apple to issue its own silent update to kill the server.

Last May, a Zoom vulnerability that enabled a zero-click remote code execution used a similar downgrade and signature-check bypass. Ars’ Dan Goodin noted that his Zoom client didn’t actually update when the fix for that issue arrived, requiring a manual download of an intermediate version first. Hackers can take advantage of exposed Zoom vulnerabilities quickly, Goodin noted, if Zoom users aren’t updated right away. Minus the root access, of course.

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