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Deanonymous Telegram: vulnerability found in a popular messenger

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Russian experts have developed a program that allows you to find out the phone number of a Telegram user by his username. This will enable law enforcement agencies, requesting information from telecom operators, to establish the identity of the subscriber. Thus, the messenger, which was still considered anonymous, ceases to be such, experts summarize. Technology may be useful in finding criminals, they suggest.

Programmers at the Center for the Study of Legitimacy and Political Protest found a vulnerability in Telegram that allows deanonymizing messenger users. They developed a program that determines the username of the phone number to which the account is registered.

“We analyzed the API (part of the application’s software interface) and found out that there is a vulnerability in the messenger that could reveal the numbers of mobile users,” Yevgeny Venediktov, the head of the center, told Izvestia.

The developers called their system “Cryptoscan.” The details of her work, they do not disclose. The general principle is this: the program sends the request containing the username to Telegram, and the application gives out the missing user data – ID and phone number, last name and first name.

To make sure that the system was working, Izvestia was asked to disclose the username of one of the editors.

The phone number is the same, but the name and surname are not. However, the user can come up with a pseudonym, so the reliability of this data is not so important.

According to Yevgeny Venediktov, the Center for the study of legitimacy and political protest has already begun to search for users at the request of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB.

If it is possible to deanonymize users, law enforcement agencies will have more opportunities to identify violators of the law, believes Evgeny Korchago, member of the Council for Interaction with Civil Society Institutions under the Chairman of the Federation Council.

With the help of a messenger, criminals actively distribute drugs through chats: they leave their usernames in public correspondence and offer to contact them in private messages, the expert said. But who exactly the seller was, it was impossible to calculate earlier, said Yevgeny Korchago.

In April, the Tagansky District Court of Moscow ruled to block Telegram at the suit of Roskomnadzor. This is due to the refusal of the messenger administration to provide the secret services with keys for decrypting the correspondence of users, as required by Russian law. The information disseminated in violation of it, “may also be used for illegal activities, threaten the security of the state and citizens,” representatives of the court said. As the head of Roskomnadzor Alexander Zharov said in an interview with Izvestia, Telegram’s blocking is still ongoing, and this process takes time.

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