BRITISH soldiers have been banned from using WhatsApp for professional purposes over fears Russia is hacking it to gain sensitive information.
All service personnel, from the top brass to junior ranks, must adhere to the ruling, which is effective immediately, or they face disciplinary action.
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) document confirmed the ban, saying there were “significant security concerns” over using WhatsApp.
The ruling comes after reports said Russia was using UK mobile phone data to pick out airstrike targets in Ukraine.
Last Sunday, a cruise missile attack on a training camp for foreign fighters which killed 35 people and wounded another 134, was reportedly initiated after UK numbers apparently “lit up” a Ukrainian phone network covering the base.
WhatsApp has maintained its “end-to-end encryption” system is secure and governments could not intercept personal messages and calls.
Both UK and US intelligence officers have intercepted WhatsApp calls and located message senders for national security purposes, security sources have said.
It is considered highly likely Russia has the same capability.
The MoD document, seen by the Daily Mail, says: “Direction: due to significant security concerns, all Field Army personnel are to cease the use of WhatsApp for work-related communications immediately.
“WhatsApp should only ever be used as a method of last resort defined as: a means of communication which should only be used in circumstances where failure to do so would result in death, serious injury or operational compromise.”
The ban includes both voice calls and messages.
Instead, soldiers have been recommended to use the alternative chat and messaging service Signal, which is favoured by MI6, the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service.
Signal does not back up or store conversations, so reducing the chance of messages being accessed.
The MoD document states: “Alternative: Signal may be used for work-related messaging and voice calls up to OFFICIAL [a security rating for the information] only. Signal is free to download. It can also be used as a desktop application – and provides similar functionality to WhatsApp.”
An MoD spokesperson told The Sun Online: “We are not asking personnel to delete WhatsApp from their work phones and the advice is not linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Alternative messaging apps can be more appropriate for work-related communication due to different types of security settings.”
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, is one of the world’s most popular messaging apps with around two billion users.
It’s communications director Alison Bonny said: “WhatsApp protects your personal messages and calls with the industry-leading Signal protocol for end-to-end encryption. So they cannot be intercepted by any government.”
Earlier this month, The Sun revealed British cyber intelligence is on high alert anticipating that hackers will infiltrate remaining Ukrainian networks, NATO systems or Whitehall computers.
A senior intelligence source said they were “braced” for retaliation but was surprised it had not yet happened.
They said: “We’re braced for a cyber attack
“We know they have experience and capability in this area, but we can’t work out why they haven’t done it yet.”
All you need to know about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Everything you need to know about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine…
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