In a bid to defeat fraudsters using its platform to carry out phishing attacks on unsuspecting users, WhatsApp is now testing a new feature named 'Suspicious Link Detection' which is designed to detect fraudulent links or domain-spoofing links and alert users about them.
The new 'suspicious link detection' feature has been made available to Android beta users as part of WhatsApp Android beta 2.18.204 to test its effectiveness before the feature is rolled out to the general public. Android device users who have updated their WhatsApp apps to version 2.18.221 can now test this new feature.
According to WABetainfo, a news website dedicated to updates rolled out by WhatsApp, the new feature will ensure that everytime a user receives a suspicious link on the platform, the user will also see a red-couloured alert from WhatsApp stating that the link is suspicious.
The feature will also apply to domain-spoofing websites, that are basically fake websites that mimic popular domains trusted by the public. If a user clicks a domain-spoofing link, the user will then see a pop-up stating "This link contains unusual characters. It may be trying to appear as another site." The pop-up will also ask the user to either open the link or to go back.
Will WhatsApp read users' messages to detect phishing links?
WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, which means that only senders and receivers can view their messages and even WhatsApp itself cannot read messages. How, then, will the platform be able to detect malicious links being forwarded by one user to another?
"WhatsApp detects the link as suspicious locally: it means no data are read from WhatsApp/Facebook servers in order to verify if the link is suspicious. Being chats end-to-end encrypted, it wasn’t possible," said WABetainfo.
While the feature is now available only to Android beta users, WhatsApp will roll out the feature to iOS and Windows Phone users in the near future. The Facebook-owned platform is also expected to roll out a number of other checks to detect suspicious links in future.
Commenting on the launch of the suspicious link detection feature, Corin Imai, senior product manager at DomainTools said: "We are seeing more and more companies move toward protecting their customers' data through limiting the sharing of known-bad domains. WhatsApp has done so with the release of their suspicious link detection feature, which focuses on reducing the spreading of links that can contain phishing attempts.
"With this method of reducing the consumption and sharing of dangerous domains, they are helping to choke off one common entry point for bad actors," he added.
WhatsApp frequently demonstrated its sincerity in ensuring the security and privacy of users and their communications in the past. Last year, it came to light that federal agencies and hackers were able to gain access to WhatsApp communications hacking into iCloud servers and downloading dumps.
WhatsApp responded by adding a new encryption key for data uploaded to iCloud servers. If a user decides to back up data to iCloud, WhatsApp sends the user a verification code which he/she needs to type in to generate a unique encryption key. This key is then used to encrypt data uploaded to the iCloud Drive. This way, WhatsApp is able to protect user data even if government agencies or hackers get past Apple's iCloud protection.
Image source: WABetainfo
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