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Your WhatsApp number could be part of the 500 million for sale on dark web

By Sifiso Sibandze

Your WhatsApp number could possibly be one of the 500 million which are being sold on the dark web (hidden and private internet site) by a hacker.

This could be a high possibility following the report on November 16, 2022, of an individual who posted on the well-known hacking forum BreahForums claiming to be selling a database of 487 million WhatsApp user cellphone numbers.

BreachForums is an illicit hacking platform. It primarily serves as a marketplace to sell often illegally obtained data. Major data leaks are usually announced there, such as Australia’s second-largest wireless carrier Optus, or Shanghai police data leak with information on one billion Chinese citizens.

Though it is impossible to determine how many of these numbers are from Eswatini, there is a possibility that there are numbers belonging to Eswatini citizens as it seems that the majority of African countries (mostly from Southern Africa) have all been lumped under the label “Africa”.

The illicit hacker by the alias “Agency123456”, claimed that the data was recent and was acquired in 2022. Agency 123456 maintained that the phone numbers belong to citizens of 84 countries, including 45 million from Egypt, 11 million from the UK and 10 million from Russia.

Speaking to digital security outlet Cybernews, the hacker claims to be selling the US dataset for about E119 000 (US$7000), the UK dataset for about 42 500 (US$2500), and the German dataset for about E34 000 (US$2000).

These phone numbers can be valuable to marketers and bad actors looking to undertake ‘phishing’ – a tactic where individuals are sent fraudulent messages with the intent of having them reveal sensitive information.

Even though WhatsApp first rebutted these claims, cybersecurity firm Check Point Research has released a report which largely supports Cybernews’ story. In a statement, the company said: “Each country has different records that have been exposed, ranging from 604 in Bosnia and Herzegovina to 35 million attributed to Italy. In the past four days, the files, which included international dial codes and were the first set for sale, are now being distributed freely amongst hackers.”

A cyber security expert warned emaSwati to be on the lookout for messages or phone calls from those who might claim to be official staff of any kind, which can be the bank, your insurance company or a furniture shop.

“Your number is highly likely to be stolen by hackers because most companies request your basic data but doesn’t have the adequate capacity to protect it. It is therefore very important that you are always thoughtful of any message or call you receive from an unknown number,” the expert said.

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