WhatsApp message of COVID-linked phone hacking virus is false

The same message has been circulating since early 2021

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Claim: According to a viral WhatsApp message, a file titled “Mexico did it”, with an image showing “how Covid-19 is cured in Mexico” will install a virus on users’ phones in five seconds. 

Fact: We found the warning to be bogus; no such file exists.

On 8 November 2022, Soch Fact Check received a WhatsApp message stating that an image file titled “Mexico did it” contains a virus was about to be released. The text has been reproduced as follows:

URGENT MESSAGE
FYI:
They are going to publish an image that shows how Covid 19 is cured in Mexico and it is called “Mexico did it”, do not open it because it enters the phone in 5 seconds and it cannot be stopped in any way.  It’s a virus.  Pass it on to your friends and family.  Now they also said it on CNN and BBC.  DO NOT OPEN IT
Pass it on

Fact or Fiction?

Soch Fact Check investigated the claim and found that the warning is bogus. No such virus exists and, as of 24 November 2022, neither CNN nor the BBC have published any such report.

Snopes, a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), published two similar articles last year — here and here — and the one before that, stating that both claims were false. It appears that the claim now circulating in Pakistan has already made the rounds on the Internet elsewhere.

Another version of the claim replaces the words “image” with “video” and “Mexico” with “Argentina”. That, too, is false.

The Spanish fact-checking website and IFCN signatory Maldita also debunked the claim in April 2021. The European Cybersecurity Competence Center’s (ECCC) National Cybersecurity Institute in Spain, INCIBE, told Maldita they did not have any “evidence or queries related” to this virus.

Different versions of the same text found on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

The publication had also cited the Asociación Mexicana de Ciberseguridad (AMECI), or the Mexican Cybersecurity Association, as saying it did not have any such “reports” about such an “attack based on malware”.

According to BOOM Live, another IFCN signatory, a 18 November 2019 report by the Times of India stated that the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) had urged people to update WhatsApp to the latest version after a critical security warning by Facebook.

At that time, the CERT-In had advised updating the app to the 2.19.274 and 2.19.100 versions for Android and iOS users, respectively; however, WhatsApp’s latest one is the 2.22.23.84 version.

Virality

Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis for the 12-month period using the following search terms:

  • “publish image shows Covid cured Mexico did it enters phone 5 seconds cannot stopped virus CNN BBC”
  • “image Covid Mexico cured phone 5 seconds virus CNN BBC”

The first search term turned up 87 Facebook posts and two Instagram posts, which garnered 655 interactions and 71 interactions, respectively.

The second search term showed 666 interactions and 2,730 interactions across 91 posts on Facebook and four posts on Instagram, respectively.

Other posts appeared here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here on Facebook, here and here on Twitter, and here, here, and here on Instagram.

Verified Instagram account @dr.yusefsalaam also shared the post but added in comments later that they were “not sure if it is [a hoax] or not” and that “as a computer guy, I know it’s not beyond any malicious thinking person to do”.

Conclusion: The warning is bogus, as no such virus exists. Neither CNN nor the BBC has published any such report either.


Background image in cover photo: Napendra Singh

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