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Why are IM-messengers so unsecure? Part 1

Only 20% of IM-messengers can be called secure enough. 
11 February 2016
Cybersecurity testing
The article by a1qa
a1qa

Only 20% of IM-messengers can be called secure enough. This is what the research of Electronic Frontier Foundation found after checking almost 40 IM-messengers. The research ascertained that only eight messengers were corresponding to all types of security.

Older than the internet

The system of instant messaging arose earlier than the Internet. Although, the definition of IM-messengers appeared only in 1990s, the first collective systems of exchanging messages emerged in 1960s. In the very beginning they were used as notifying systems, but soon they became available for users registered on the same computer.

Online-chats became popular in 1970s. When BBS (bulletin board system) gained its popularity in 1980s, some systems started implementing chats, which in ten years would be called “instant messengers”.

The first messengers with graphic interfaces emerged with the Internet spreading. Finally, internet-pager with ICQ-system of instant messaging was released in 1996. ICQ-system was extremely popular all over the world, because it has such convenient features as networks statuses and file attaching. It was the first instant messenger that corresponded to the definition of “functional”.

With spreading of mobile phones that had cheap Short Message Service, IM-messengers stayed in shadow. But once smartphones were invented, developers started releasing IM-applications targeted on smartphone users. They differed a lot from the first IM-messengers, reminding social networks, where a profile picture could be added, network statuses were enabled, and file attaching was possible. Since mobile IM-messengers used phone numbers as a login, the problem of adding new contacts was now solved: once user added a new contact to their address book, this contact automatically moved to IM-messenger database.

Ad protection

The most popular messengers today are WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts. All of those apps use client-server architecture and allow creating groups and chats, as well as transferring files and users’ locations.

The same way big cities attract thieves, popular IM-messengers attract internet-robbers. That’s the reason why the app owners, working with big personal data should care about the highest level of security and run through regular application security testing to ensure it.

The more popular the app is the more ads it will have, the more spam it will be flooded with, the more profiles would be hacked and the more personal data would be stolen. How can you protect yourself in those harsh conditions?

To resist ad spammers all of the messengers mentioned above have the function of the black list, where all spammers are moved. However, this measure loses its effectiveness when the user gets phone number. After changing it they receive a new login and new default settings, which means changing security settings. Now the user has to make his black list again manually.

Moreover, even if you block all spammers, ad messages can still be delivered to your inbox. The thing is that sometimes ads can be sent by your real contacts, whose profiles were hacked and used for sending spam. So far IM-clients add all your phone contacts to the messenger treating them as reliable contacts, and criminals can use this feature to send spam from the profiles of user’s friends.

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