WhatsApp use at the UN is banned, say UN officials following Jeff Bezos' hack

The United Nations has banned the use of WhatsApp Messenger as it does not consider it a secure platform to communicate over in spite of its end-to-end encryption

United Nations officials have banned the use of WhatsApp to communicate as "it's not supported as a secure mechanism," a UN spokesman told Reuters on Thursday after UN experts accused Saudi Arabia of using the messaging platform to hack the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Jeff Bezos' phone hacked using WhatsApp

According to UN officials, Bezos's phone was hacked in May 2018 after receiving a malicious video file via a WhatsApp message sent by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a forensic analysis conducted by a team hired by Bezos, and reviewed by UN investigators, as report previously.

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos Wikimedia Commons

Soon after the video was delivered, the device transferred more than six gigabytes of data from the phone, apparently without the Amazon billionaire's knowledge.

WhatsApp banned in the UN as it's not a secure platform

In the wake of the hacking scandal, when asked if UN Secretary-General Antonio Guturres had ever corresponded with the Saudi crown prince or any other world leaders using WhatsApp, UN spokesman Farhan Haq told Reuters that "Senior officials at the UN have been instructed not to use WhatsApp, it's not supported as a secure mechanism."

whatsapp messenger update
The WhatsApp Messenger app icon seen on an iPhone screen Max Pixel

"So no, I do not believe the secretary-general uses it," he said, before adding that the directive not to use WhatsApp was handed to UN officials in June last year.

WhatsApp defends the platform

When the publication reached out to WhatsApp for a comment on the app's ban by the United Nations, the Facebook-owned company said it provides industry-leading security to more than 1.5 billion of its active users around the world.

"Every private message is protected by end-to-end encryption to help prevent WhatsApp or others from viewing chats. The encryption technology that we developed with Signal is highly regarded by security experts and remains the best available for people around the world," said WhatsApp Director of Communications, Carl Woog.

WhtsApp Encryption

The ban by the UN on WhatsApp despite having end-to-end encryption has left security experts scratching their heads. WhatsApp "is taking security very seriously compared to others," noted Oded Vanunu, whose Tel Aviv-based company, Checkpoint, is a leading provider of cybersecurity solutions to governments and corporate entities and is known for finding out security flaws in messaging apps.

"Every application has vulnerabilities you can exploit in some way," he pointed out, before adding that WhatsApp was particularly good at fixing them. "Other instant messaging companies can only dream of their kind of security procedures," he said.