What you need to know
- New research raises concerns about how messaging apps handle link previews.
- Some apps could be leaking your location to third parties.
- Files you share could also be accessible by other people and companies, too.
New security research by Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk has found that some messaging apps are mishandling data, potentially sharing details like your IP address and location with third parties. Files that you send could also end up on a third-party's server as well.
On top of all that, link previous could also download multiple gigabytes of data if the link takes a messaging app to a large file.
Link previews give the person receiving a URL a glimpse of what they will see if they tap on it. But that preview needs to be generated and if it's the receiver doing it, it could be happening on a server somewhere. And it's there where the data leak can happen.
The researchers tested a number of popular and high-profile messaging apps and services including Discord, Google Hangouts, Instagram, Slack, Zoom, and iMessage. Some fared better than others with one in particular, LINE, behaving particularly badly. While it offers end-to-end encryption on its messages, it still sends links to a server for the preview to be generated. Effectively undoing the encryption.
The full report is a great read if you're at all interested in what can happen when developers and back-end server architects don't think things through properly. Thankfully, some companies have already reacted to the findings of this report. Now we need the rest to follow suit.
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Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.
Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.