190108 tiktok
Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: Researchers at Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point Research on Wednesday exposed multiple vulnerabilities in Chinese short-video making app TikTok, which has over a billion users globally and nearly 300 million in India, saying that personal information such as private and email addresses and sensitive videos of its users are vulnerable to hackers.

The Chinese video making platform is used mainly by teenagers and kids to share, save and keep private (and sometimes very sensitive) videos of themselves and their loved ones.

"Data is pervasive but data breaches are becoming an epidemic, and our latest research shows that the most popular apps are still at risk," Oded Vanunu, Head of Product Vulnerability Research, Check Point, said in a statement.

The researchers at Check Point Research -- the threat intelligence arm of Check Point Software Technologies Ltd -- have discovered that an attacker could send a spoofed SMS message to a user containing a malicious link.

When the user clicked on the malicious link, the attacker was able to get a hold of the TikTok account and manipulate its content by deleting videos, uploading unauthorised videos, and making private or "hidden" videos public.

"Social media applications are highly targeted for vulnerabilities as they provide a good source for private data and offer a good attack surface gate.

"Malicious actors are spending large amounts of money and putting in great effort to penetrate into such huge applications. Yet most users are under the assumption that they are protected by the app they are using," Vanunu added.

The research also found that Tiktok's subdomain -- https://ads.tiktok.com was vulnerable to XSS attacks, which is a type of attack in which malicious scripts are injected into otherwise benign and trusted websites.

The researchers leveraged this vulnerability to retrieve personal information saved on user accounts including private email addresses and birthdates.

The Israeli cyber security firm informed TikTok developers of the vulnerabilities exposed in this research and a fix was deployed to ensure its users can safely continue using the TikTok app.

"TikTok is committed to protecting user data. Like many organisations, we encourage responsible security researchers to privately disclose zero day vulnerabilities to us.

"Before public disclosure, CheckPoint agreed that all reported issues were patched in the latest version of our app. We hope that this successful resolution will encourage future collaboration with security researchers," said Luke Deshotels, PhD, TikTok Security Team.

Available in over 150 markets, used in 75 languages globally, and with over 1 billion users, TikTok is one of the most-downloaded apps.

As of October 2019, TikTok is the most-downloaded app in the US, making it the first Chinese app to have achieved such a record.