WhatsApp warning after expert reveals 470,000 links to private group chats are visible in Google searches

INVITATIONS to hundreds of thousands of supposedly private WhatsApp chats have been published online.

Experts found that 470,000 of the messaging app's groups have potentially been compromised, with links to join them visible in Google searches.

The shock find proves that group chats, designed to be safe havens where people can chat privately, are "not as secure" as users think, researchers warned.

Groups are normally protected from strangers as anyone who wants to join must do so using a digital invitation link.

However, these links can easily be copied by group members and shared with anyone.

It appears many have been published online and can be found with a simple Google search.

The glitch was first discovered by Jordan Wildon, a multimedia journalist for German outlet Deutsche Welle.

"Your WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are," Jordan tweeted last week.

He added that links to private groups "are generally available across the internet".

Jordan's claims were backed up by computer expert Jane Manchun-Wong, who regularly reverse-engineers apps in search of security vulnerabilities.

She said a simple Google search revealed 470,000 group invite links.

Groups exposed online included X-rated chats where people shared porn and groups allegedly linked to major organisations including the UN.

Anyone who found an invitation would be free to secretly join the group and find out members' phone numbers.

They could also see private or confidential information shared between a group's members.

Disgusting group chats where paedos traded child sex abuse images were also discovered by Jordan.

WhatsApp – a quick history

Here's what you need to know…

  • WhatsApp was created in 2009 by computer programmers Brian Acton and Jan Koum – former employees of Yahoo
  • It's one of the most popular messaging services in the world
  • Koum came up with the name WhatsApp because it sounded like "what's up"
  • After a number of tweaks the app was released with a messaging component in June 2009, with 250,000 active users
  • It was originally free but switched to a paid service to avoid growing too fast. Then in 2016, it became free again for all users
  • Facebook bought WhatsApp Inc in February 2014 for $19.3billion (£14.64bn)
  • The app is particularly popular because all messages are encrypted during transit, shutting out snoopers
  • As of January 2018, WhatsApp has over 1.5billion users globally

Most of the links were visible in Google because they were posted on public websites or social networks.

To avoid falling foul of the same issue, avoid sharing WhatsApp links in anything other than private online chats.

"Any group link that is shared outside of secure, private messaging can relatively easily be found and joined," Jordan added.

In a statement, WhatsApp said: "Group admins in WhatsApp groups are able to invite any WhatsApp user to join that group by sharing a link that they have generated.

"Like all content that is shared in searchable, public channels, invite links that are posted publicly on the internet can be found by other WhatsApp users.

"Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website."

The Sun has reached out to WhatsApp for additional comment.

Following Jordan's comments, Google said it had fixed the issue and was blocking WhatsApp group links from its search results. The links still appear elsewhere, however.

In other news, find out some of the best WhatsApp tricks you can try today.

WhatsApp is about to start showing you ads, and people are threatening to delete their accounts.

And we recently revealed the new WhatsApp features coming to your phone this year.

Do you know any great WhatsApp tips or tricks? Let us know in the comments!

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