By Jurgita Lapienytė Chief Editor, Cybernews.com
Someone is allegedly selling up-to-date mobile phone numbers of nearly 500 million WhatsApp users. A data sample investigated by Cybernews likely confirms this to be true.
25th November 2022 – (London) On 16th November, an actor posted an ad on a well-known hacking community forum, claiming they were selling a 2022 database of 487 million WhatsApp user mobile numbers.
The dataset allegedly contains WhatsApp user data from 84 countries. Threat actor claims there are over 32 million US user records included.
Another huge chunk of phone numbers belongs to the citizens of Egypt (45 million), Italy (35 million), Saudi Arabia (29 million), France (20 million), and Turkey (20 million).
The dataset for sale also allegedly has nearly 10 million Russian and over 11 million UK citizens’ phone numbers.
The threat actor told Cybernews they were selling the US dataset for $7,000, the UK – $2,500, and Germany – $2,000.
Such information is mostly used by attackers for smishing and vishing attacks, so we recommend users to remain wary of any calls from unknown numbers, unsolicited calls and messages.
WhatsApp is reported to have more than two billion monthly active users globally.
Upon request, the seller of WhatsApp’s database shared a sample of data with Cybernews researchers. There were 1097 UK and 817 US user numbers in the shared sample.
Cybernews investigated all the numbers included in the sample and managed to confirm that all of them are, in fact, WhatsApp users.
The seller did not specify how they obtained the database, suggesting they “used their strategy” to collect the data, and assured Cybernews all the numbers in the instance belong to active WhatsApp users.
Cybernews reached out to WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta, but received no immediate response. We will update the article as soon as we learn more.
The information on WhatsApp users could be obtained by harvesting information at scale, also known as scraping, which violates WhatsApp’s Terms of Service.
This claim is purely speculative. However, quite often, massive data dumps posted online turn out to be obtained by scraping.
Meta itself, long criticized for letting third parties scrape or collect user data, saw over 533 million user records leaked on a dark forum. The actor was sharing the dataset practically for free.
Leaked phone numbers could be used for marketing purposes, phishing, impersonation, and fraud.
“In this age, we all leave a sizeable digital footprint – and tech giants like Meta should take all precautions and means to safeguard that data,” head of Cybernews research team Mantas Sasnauskas said. “We should ask whether an added clause of ‘scraping or platform abuse is not permitted in the Terms and Conditions’ is enough. Threat actors don’t care about those terms, so companies should take rigorous steps to mitigate threats and prevent platform abuse from a technical standpoint.”
To prevent personal data leaks, regular users should adopt common data security practices. This includes using a high-quality VPN and getting a reliable antivirus program. And since the shopping holidays are close, you can already find great market-leading NordVPN Black Friday and TotalAV deals.