WhatsApp and WeChat are two of the most popular messaging apps in the world with monthly active users reaching 1.5 and 1.08 billion respectively. While Facebook Messenger leads the US market, organizations expanding abroad will find that WhatsApp leads the way in 128 countries, including all of Central and South America and much of Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia. WeChat is the app of choice in China (where WhatsApp is blocked), but it’s also a worthy contender in India and much of Southeast Asia.
Transformative technologies like WhatsApp and WeChat present both opportunities and risks. On one hand, you have instant access to your customers and team members alike, as well as a raft of potentially useful conversational data to drive smarter decision-making. On the other, the enhanced accessibility comes with a greatly increased attack surface and potential for a data leak.
To most business decision makers, the decision of whether to use these enormously popular instant messaging apps in the workplace is a matter of weighing the risks and opportunities and determining an acceptable compromise. In reality, there often ends up being a serious misalignment between cybersecurity and market imperatives. Some business leaders just cross their fingers and hope employees aren’t using these apps for work. Others, however, find themselves in a desperate struggle to innovate ahead of their competitors only to leave security on the backseat.
Modern Communications Are a Business Imperative
As the world’s most popular instant messaging apps, WhatsApp and WeChat are simply too big to ignore in certain markets. In Brazil, for example, 96% of smartphone owners use WhatsApp as their primary communications channel. In India, the average smartphone user spends 38 minutes every day on the app. In China, WeChat is the dominant platform, with over 900 million daily users sending some 38 billion messages every day. However, unlike WhatsApp, WeChat also features integrated social networking, online payments and, for enterprise users, dedicated features to help employees keep their work and private lives separate.
The enormous reach of these apps in the countries they dominate translates into some serious economic impact. From cementing superior brand connections to interacting with customers through the platforms they’re already on, WhatsApp and WeChat have become critical tools in global engagement, and ignoring them can severely hamper your marketing and customer support teams. On top of that is the vast amount of conversational data they generate, which businesses can leverage to drive smarter decision-making. In conclusion, if you’re going to do business in a country where a particular app reigns supreme, then you need to be a part of it too.
Should You Rely on in-App Security and Privacy Settings?
In a word, no. Cybersecurity analysts often compare the risks of using one app over another, but the reality is that no third-party app is truly secure, particularly from a compliance standpoint. In-app security and privacy settings might give users some control over how safe their data is, but the truth is that relying on them leaves them entirely at the mercy of the owners of the platform. Given that WeChat specifically has been called out multiple times for its alleged role in cyber espionage, it’s easy to see what the problem is. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, doesn’t have a perfectly clean track record either, with vulnerabilities having arisen before.
Does this mean you should stop using mainstream instant-messaging apps in your company? Fortunately, no. Doing so could cut you off from many customers, particularly in the case of companies doing business across broader international markets. However, a data breach can have an even greater impact on your bottom line.
The challenge lies in establishing a way to use these technologies safely. Instant-messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat lie beyond normal perimeter security, which means the data handled by them typically isn’t overseen by your own security protocols. Because of this, businesses need a way to analyze data before it ends up being transmitted through such apps.
Using Instant Messaging Apps Safely
Extending security to your instant-messaging channels provides multiple business benefits while also encouraging the responsible use of apps that could otherwise end up causing more harm than good. With the right technology on your side, there’s no reason you can’t retain full control over your corporate data, even if you are using platforms that might otherwise present serious problems for security and privacy.
SafeGuard Cyber provides digital risk protection and archiving for WhatsApp and WeChat so that businesses can use these leading technologies without fear. Request your demo today to find out how it works.
July 3, 2020