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Date: Wed, 17 May 2017 20:31:16 -0400
From: Nightwatch Cybersecurity Research <>
Subject: [FD] WhatsApp (Android) Privacy Issues with Handling of Media Files

[Original post here:]


WhatsApp Messenger for Android does not delete sent and received files
from the SD card on the device when chats are cleared, deleted or the
application is uninstalled from the device. Additionally, the
application stores sent and received files in the SD card without
encryption where they are accessible to any applications with storage

The vendor (Facebook) doesn’t consider these to be security issues and
does not plan to fix them. MITRE has assigned CVE-2017-8769 for these
issues. It is also unclear whether platforms other than Android are


WhatsApp Messenger is a popular cross-platform communication tool that
allows users to send and receive messages without using more expensive
protocols like SMS. Additionally the application allows sending and
receiving of files including audio, contacts, images, videos and
arbitrary documents. It is estimated that WhatsApp has over 1 billion
active users and it is owned by Facebook, which also operates the
largest social networking site in the world.

One of the main selling points that WhatsApp makes is their commitment
to user privacy which revolves around the implementation of end-to-end
encryption via the Signal protocol originally developed by Open
Whisper Systems. This encryption makes it impossible for Facebook to
monitor and capture message traffic flowing between users. In some
extreme cases, Facebook executives have been placed in jail for the
failure to allow access to messaging data when requested by

Because of the high expectation of privacy by WhatsApp user, it is
important that the security of the application on the device is also
properly implemented. In regards to messages, WhatsApp stores them in
encrypted database but it fails to do the same for files. WhatsApp
also does not clear files received or sent by the user when the chats
are cleared. This can result in user data being leaked or stolen by
malicious applications, law enforcement during illegal searches or
unwanted actors having access to the device (“evil maid scenario”).


As mentioned above, WhatsApp has ability to send and receive files in
addition to regular messages. This functionality includes arbitrary
documents from the file system, contacts, location information, and
various type of multimedia files including two separate audio formats
(voice notes and recordings), images and videos. There is also more
recent functionality around “status” images which disappear after 24
hours. In order for WhatsApp to access the SD card, users must grant
storage permissions but in practice most users do so in order to be
able to exchange files.

In our research, we have found that WhatsApp for Android stores these
files on the SD card where they are accessible to other applications
and does not delete them when chats are cleared, deleted or the
application is uninstalled. Both sent and received files are retained.
They are retained on the SD card in the following folder:

- /WhatsApp/Media/

We have observed that the following file types are retained and not deleted:

- /WhatsApp/Media/.Statuses/
- /WhatsApp/Media/WhatsApp Audio/
- /WhatsApp/Media/WhatsApp Documents/
- /WhatsApp/Media/WhatsApp Images/
- /WhatsApp/Media/WhatsApp Video/
- /WhatsApp/Media/WhatsApp Voice Notes/

To replicate the issue:
1. Install WhatsApp for Android.
2. Login and exchange messages with another user that contain any of
the file type listed above.
3. Then, install any file manager for Android.
4. Navigate to the SD card, and observe the files sent and received
being located in the directories described above.

As the next step, try to delete a chat by tapping on the chat, holding
until the delete option comes up. Delete the chat, and go back to the
file manager to check.

As the next step, try going to “Settings”, “Chats”, “Chat History” and
selecting either “Clear all chats” or “Delete all chats”. Go back to
the file manager and observe the media files still being present.

As the next step, uninstall WhatsApp. Go back to the file manager, and
observe the media files still being there.

All testing was done on Android 7, and WhatsApp Messenger v2.17.146.
It is unclear whether other platforms are affected.


The vendor (Facebook) doesn’t consider these to be security issues and
has no plans to fix them. Vendor response is as follows:

Thanks again for your report. We contacted the WhatsApp team about
your report, and they confirmed that the behavior you describe is
intentional. They designed the Android app to optimize for the storage
space available on devices and allow media in WhatsApp to be visible
in other apps like the Google Photos gallery. WhatsApp doesn’t assume
that clearing the chat means clearing the media files as well. While
the behavior might change in the future, we currently don’t have any
plans to do so.

The vendor also noted that on Windows Phone, there is a setting that
stops the application from saving media files that are received by the

It is recommended that users regularly check the folders listed above
on the SD card and empty them as needed. For those users who desire
higher security, it may be prudent to reformat or encrypt the SD card,
or destroy the SD card if needed in order to delete these files.


CVE ID: CVE-2017-8769
CWE IDs: CWE-359 (“Exposure of Private Information”)
Facebook security reference # 10101277738643365


Advisory written by Yakov Shafranovich.


2017-04-09: Initial report to Facebook
2017-04-14: Email exchange with the vendor
2017-04-20: Email exchange with the vendor
2017-04-03: Email exchange with the vendor
2017-05-09: Email exchange with the vendor
2017-05-16: Email exchange with the vendor
2017-05-17: Email exchange with the vendor
2017-05-17: Public disclosure

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