Instant Messaging Apps – an Instant Threat

The Internet has revolutionized communication forever. Remember the time you’d spend all your money on text messages and multimedia messages? Those days are long past. Real-time and instant messaging is the rage now, allowing you to stay connected with friends round the clock. Apart from simple text messages, they also allow you to exchange voice messages, video recordings and pictures, and even allow you to make voice/video calls with clarity unlike ever before. All of this and more at no cost at all!

Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and Google Hangout are some of the more popular messaging applications the world over. Other old favorites are Viber, Snapchat, and WeChat. All these applications allow you to send and receive texts, share pictures, videos, and other files. These days IM apps also allow users to make voice and video calls and send voice messages. Group chats are also permitted in most of these applications. The new IM apps that are gaining popularity are LINE, Telegram, Kik Chat. Even applications that are traditionally not meant for messaging such as Instagram now allow users to send private messages and thus work like IM applications. Applications like Whatsapp and Snapchat have recently introduced encrypted messaging which is a secure form of messaging.

Data Leaks and Security Threats

While IM applications have definitely brought the world to our fingertips, they have also opened up gaps for hackers to steal personal and sensitive data. From identity thefts to stealing financial and corporate information, IM apps make just about everything possible. More the integration, greater the risk of a data leak through the messaging app.

Some common threats to our data and security come in the form of strangers posing as friends, seeking personal or financial information, passwords etc. Sneaky hackers send IMs from a new number with your friend’s name and photograph. Identity theft is as serious as financial theft. Sharing of devices or IM accounts with acquaintances can also leads to serious breach of security, often from unexpected quarters. Unauthorized access to smartphone or mobile device by guests, colleagues, or friends is another security threat. Accidental data sharing to groups while the intended recipient is an individual is very common.

Malware stealing personal, proprietary  and financial information can be installed into your smartphone, sneaked in by videos or links sent by unknown senders. Similarly, you must look out for new and unknown IM applications which could be created in order to steal personal data.

Data Leaks Prevention and Precautions

There are some simple precautions that can be taken to prevent data leak through IM applications. Personal information and sensitive corporate information should not be disclosed to anyone without establishing their identity. Do not be fooled by the DP (Display Picture) and name. Your friends and colleagues will never ask you for your details and passwords over IM. When you find strangers asking for your personal/financial information, do not hesitate to be generous with the “Block” button. Never share your passwords and sensitive data with anyone, not even bank personnel or colleagues you are working with over IM. It is best if you do not save your credit card or bank account details in any phone or mobile device.

If at any time you are under compulsion to send your personal information or credit card details to a family member or friend over IM, or if a colleague needs some sensitive information that is holding back a deal or a project, ensure that the chat uses end-to-end encryption. In case of latter, it is best to implement a mobile data loss prevention solution to prevent data leakage over mobile phones.

Activating the numeric lock or fingerprint reader is a good precaution to keep your device safe. This simple measure will ensure that no one can access your smartphone or mobile device when you’re not around. Lock IM apps with a pattern reader for added protection. Refrain from accessing web versions of IM applications from public computers.

Hacking, phishing, and phreaking are some of the top security threats in the world of technology these days.  Never click on links sent to you by unknown people. Malware are often sent in the form of innocuous links or even videos. These are installed in your smartphone or mobile device when you click them and transmit information that you send over messages. Also, do set all system downloads to “manual” to avoid unintended malware installation on your mobile device.

Messaging Apps bring our dear ones closer. They also make corporate teams work more closely together. But unfortunately, they also bring the wily data thief within harming distance. With a little precaution your instant messaging can be made as safe as a face-to-face conversation.