Spammers set their sights on WhatsApp – that's that ruined then

Bypassing filters and flinging ads through bars of cage


Mobile spam is spreading from SMS channels towards mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp, according to mobile security provider and specialist AdaptiveMobile.

The company believes spammers have switched tactics over recent months in order to bypass existing mobile spam filters. App spam is particularly prevalent in mature mobile security markets such as the US, Europe and India.

The methodologies and content of junk messages slung through WhatsApp and its ilk is little changed from earlier SMS messaging. It's only the distribution channel that has changed.

Recent campaigns targeting WhatsApp users include investment spam messages sent from US numbers to Europe, spam promoting fake luxury goods sent from Chinese numbers to users in Europe and a ramp up in junk messages of various flavours to WhatsApp users in India from numbers in the US and India.

The rise in VoIP operators has made it easier for spammers to switch techniques in targeting subscribers. By switching numbers and creating new accounts it's possible for scammers to avoid detection.

AdaptiveMobile estimates that a crackdown on SMS spam in India has led to a corresponding increase in WhatsApp spam activity, as criminal groups exploit loopholes in the regional anti-spam legislation and perhaps much lower costs.

WhatsApp advertising text messages bought in bulk cost as little as 0.21 Rupees (around 0.3 of a US cent). As app spam has increased, text message spam has fallen off a cliff in India and to a lesser but still noticeable extent elsewhere, AdaptiveMobile reports.

“The migration of criminal groups to OTT services for spam and malware campaigns is a concern, but not impossible for the industry to address,” said Cathal McDaid, head of data intelligence and analytics, AdaptiveMobile.

“WhatsApp has already put in place some measures to ensure that users do not receive spam messages. The challenge for all messaging service providers is to continue to evolve and implement safeguards to address the trend of spammers spreading from SMS channels to also exploiting OTT messaging apps," he said.

A blog post by AdaptiveMobile – featuring screenshots of junk messages and more details on the evolving threat – can be found here. ®

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