A hoax is circulating among WhatsApp users in South Africa warning they will receive video messages which will hack or wipe their phones.
According to the hoax, a video on WhatsApp called “martinelli” will hack your phone and nothing will be able to fix it.
It also claims that BBC Radio announced a video called “Dance of the Pope” will wipe your phone if you click on it.
The hoax goes on to warn you not to click on anything relating to messages about upgrading to WhatsApp Gold.
It urges users to forward the hoax to as many people as they can, claiming initially that the warning comes from “our IT guy” and later that they were sent the warning from a friend who works in a computer company.
The text of the WhatsApp hoax message being circulated is as follows:
This from our IT guy!!! If you know anyone using WhatsApp you might pass on this. An IT colleague has advised that a video comes out tomorrow from WhatsApp called martinelli do not open it, it hacks your phone and nothing will fix it. Spread the word If you receive a message to update the Whatsapp to Whatsapp Gold, do not click !!!!!
Please inform all contacts from your list not to open a video called the “Dance of the Pope”. It is a virus that formats your mobile. Beware it is very dangerous. They announced it today on BBC radio. Fwd this msg to as many as you can! Just been sent this from a friend that works in computer company so it is probably real.
Germ of truth
Like many viral hoaxes, the “martinelli” or “Dance of the Pope” hoax contains a germ of truth to encourage people to share it.
At the beginning of the year, The Guardian reported the iPhone X of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was infected with spyware through a video sent over WhatsApp. The message carrying the spyware reportedly came from Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia denied the accusations.
The hoax message also warns against the WhatsApp Gold scam, which is a real scam that has been around for years.
However, despite the relative accuracy of the WhatsApp Gold warning, security firm Sophos has said the rest of the message is false.
Why you shouldn’t forward hoaxes
Sophos deconstructed the hoax, and provided the following tips regarding what people should do:
- Don’t spread unsubstantiated stories or messages that have already been debunked.
- Don’t use the “better safe than sorry” excuse. You can’t make someone safer by “protecting” them from something that doesn’t exist.
- Don’t forward a cybersecurity hoax because you think it’s an obvious joke. What’s obvious to you might not be to other people, and your comments may get repeated as an earnest truth by millions of people.
- Be careful about following the advice in a hoax “just in case”. The advice offered in hoaxes may promise a quick fix, but it is usually bogus. At the very least it will distract you from taking proper precautions.
- Don’t be tricked by claims to authority. Anyone can claim that BBC Radio reported something, but that doesn’t tell you anything. Do your own research independently, without relying on links or claims in the message itself.
- Patch early, patch often. Security updates for mobile phones close off security holes that crooks could exploit.
- Don’t grant permissions to an app unless it genuinely needs them. Malware that targets smartphones doesn’t need to use fancy, low-level programming booby-traps if you invite it in yourself.