The Use of Unofficial Telegram Applications in Iran Sparked a Data Leak of Over 42M Users

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The personal records of over 42 million users from an unofficial version of the prominent Telegram messaging app have just leaked. Excluding duplicate accounts from this staggering figure, it would still end up affecting around 50% of Iran’s total citizens following their population estimates back in 2017.  Most Iranians utilize the third-party version of the Telegram application in question because of the decision of the country to ban the real Telegram.

As per a recent report published by Comparitech, the personal data has initially been leaked by the ‘Hunting System,’ an Iranian hacking group, on a full-text search engine that is mostly used by enterprises – Elasticsearch cluster. The particular data is devoid of any form of authentication or access controls, meaning that anybody who knew that it was lying there could have retrieved it without any problems.

The data was then removed almost a week ago. However, it appears as if it began reappearing as it makes rounds on at least one famous hacking forum. A particular user is selling the specific information that claims to have encountered it while casually surfing the internet.

Telegram believes that the Iranian people who persisted in using unofficial Telegram apps should be held accountable. This is because they have given multiple warnings already concerning the risks of using unverified Telegram apps.

A spokesperson of Telegram purportedly told Comparitech that the leak wouldn’t have been possible if only the people weren’t so eager to use unofficial versions of the Telegram messenger. Telegram then emphasized that the leaked personal data originated from these third-party applications or so-called “forks” of the prominent messaging app that is not in any way affiliated with the Telegram. However, this became possible due to the fact that Telegram is a free application that openly allows third parties to meddle with it or make new versions of it.

According to the report of local publications, these Iranian-made “fork” Telegram applications named Hotgram and Telegram Talaeii were made in response to the country’s decision to ban the official Telegram app.

The data leak includes the usernames, user account IDs, phone numbers, and even secret keys of the 42 million unfortunate users. Despite the inability to utilize the secret keys obtained from the leak, the rest of the information could still be used for other purposes. As an example, it could be used to spread adverse fake news and to be actively used in spamming and phishing attacks.

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