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Police to begin 'limited' roll out of Whatsapp to officers

PUBLISHED: 15:49 14 May 2019 | UPDATED: 15:59 14 May 2019

Norfolk Police have said a 'limited' roll out of Whatsapp to officers will happen. The messenger application this week rushed to roll out a security fix after concerns were raised hackers could inject surveillance software on to phones via the call function. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

Norfolk Police have said a 'limited' roll out of Whatsapp to officers will happen. The messenger application this week rushed to roll out a security fix after concerns were raised hackers could inject surveillance software on to phones via the call function. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

Police will begin a "limited roll out" of Whatsapp to its officers in a bid to engage with local communities.

It is despite warnings from the Information Commissioner its use is "not advisable" and a major cybersecurity vulnerability being exposed this week.

Norfolk Constabulary have already set up text messaging groups to communicate with its communities, and accept there are "significant challenges" in the use of Whatsapp.

Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Paul Sanford told the police accountability forum that Whatsapp is "run on an unsecure network which could lead to cyber attacks and legal issues".

He added the Information Commissioner's Office had offered guidance the use of Whatsapp was not advisable and can lead to heavy fines in the event of data breaches.

But the force has said it can be a useful tool on "standalone devices", including in hostage situations.

Today cybersecurity experts have warned WhatsApp users to update the messaging app as soon as possible following the discovery of a major vulnerability that could allow attackers to install a malicious code on smartphones.

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The Facebook-owned app said it identified and fixed the issue earlier this month but Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, suspects that an attacker attempted to exploit it again on Sunday.

WhatsApp believes that a select number of users were targeted by an advanced cyber actor, with all the hallmarks of delivery of spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems.

WhatsApp said it was deeply concerned about the abuse of such capabilities and is also urging users to update their apps out of an abundance of caution.

"WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices," a spokeswoman said.

"We are constantly working alongside industry partners to provide the latest security enhancements to help protect our users."

Norfolk's chief constable Simon Bailey said: "As I understand it there will be a limited roll out of Whatsapp, recognising the risks identified by the Information Commissioner.

"It will happen in a very timely, controlled way."

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