WhatsApp may soon have a new weapon in the fight against one of the most insidious forms of spam: shady links.
The messaging app is testing a new feature that can detect suspicious links within messages and warns users before they click, a company rep confirmed to Mashable.
The feature is aimed at a specific type of exploit favored by spammers and phishers: links that mimic legitimate URLs by using characters from other alphabets that look similar to other letters. In the example below, for instance, the URL in the message looks like a link to whatsapp.com, but the “w” character is actually an entirely different letter (note the small dot under the w).
This technique, known as an “IDN homograph attack,” is commonly used by spammers and in phishing attacks and can be particularly effective if you’re not paying close attention.
With the potential new feature, WhatsApp will append a red “suspicious link” label when it detects a character that seems out of place. Notably, the feature will work regardless of the language you use the app in. The company notes that the link checks don’t affect existing privacy settings.
“To protect your privacy, these checks take place entirely on your device, and because of end-to-end encryption WhatsApp can’t see the content of your messages,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
The link alert feature began to roll out to WhatsApp’s beta testers on Thursday. The new test comes on the heels of several updates meant to combat fake news and misinformation.
The messaging app has also added new admin controls for group chats and labels for forwarded messages. These features, along with ad campaigns, are designed to help WhatsApp’s 1 billion users better identify fake news, hoaxes, and other false information that can spread via the messaging app.