As well as the constant stream of privacy related WhatsApp updates over recent months, Mark Zuckerberg himself actually took to the internet to announce a big privacy push on the world’s most popular messaging app. Unfortunately, however, it looks as though things haven’t been going too well in that regard as a dataset containing the phone numbers of almost 500 million WhatsApp users has just gone up for sale on a well-known hacker forum. Let’s take a look at what has gone on and help you find out if your phone number is up for sale.
According to a report by Cybernews, on November 16th an unknown posted that they have a database of 487 million WhatsApp users’ phone numbers for sale. With WhatsApp having around 2 billion users, that puts the figure at just under 25% of all WhatsApp users.
The ad also claims that the numbers come from a spread across 84 different countries with 32 million of the stolen phone numbers coming from the US alone. Egypt is the country with the most numbers on the illicit database with a total of over 44 million WhatsApp numbers on the list. Other prominent countries include Italy with 35 million, France with just under 20 million, the UK with 11.5million, Spain just under 11 million, and Saudi Arabia with over 32 million.
There is no word yet on just how this massive database has fallen into illicit hands with some security analysts saying they could have been scraped from public databases. Until Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company, confirms what has gone on, however, it will be difficult to say for certain what has occurred. This incident clearly indicates just how messy our online privacy situation is and how helpless we are in the face of such massive data breaches.
If the unknown malicious actor trying is able to sell the database, these numbers could be used to target the victims with spam and phishing attacks, marketing, or even impersonation of the victim as a way to gain the trust of further third-party victims.
At this stage there isn’t too much we can do about this breach to protect ourselves personally as the heavy lifting here will fall to Meta. If, however, you want to do what you can, you should go to WhatsApp’s Settings menu, hit Privacy, and then restrict all of the settings you see to Contacts Only. This way, any stranger who has your phone number won’t be able to see things like when you were last online, your profile information, or your profile photo. For more WhatsApp tips check out our guide to WhatsApp’s security features.