WhatsApp crash: Users advised to have alternative chat apps in case of future outages

WhatsApp experienced a roughly two-hour outage on Oct 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Users of messaging apps should have an alternative chat service on standby because the global WhatsApp outage on Tuesday has shown that it will not be the last of such incidents as more services digitalise, said cybersecurity experts.

Those supporting the elderly should also guide them to recognise when a service is unavailable and to familiarise them with alternative ways to contact their loved ones in case of an emergency, they said.

The roughly two-hour WhatsApp outage was caused by a “technical error”, according to Indian business daily The Economic Times. Meta, which runs WhatsApp, declined to comment further on the crash, and repeated that it had fixed the issue and apologised for any inconvenience.

Online platform Downdetector said more than 11,000 users across India were affected, while the number was 68,000 for Britain and 19,000 for Singapore. WhatsApp has about two billion users.

Infoblox regional field chief security officer Alvin Rodrigues said system disruptions can occur due to system failure, power outages, or a cyber breach, among other reasons.

In October 2021, a system configuration error put WhatsApp and other Meta apps out of service for several hours.

Such outages would have halted communications for enterprises that use WhatsApp’s business platform to connect with their customers, said Mr Rodrigues. These include courier services that may rely on the platform to update customers.

WhatsApp for Business, the platform’s version designed for companies and businesses to carry out commercial transactions, also showed a spike in the number of reports flagged on Downdetector as users were unable to carry out any communication on Tuesday.

Mr Rodrigues urged companies to implement a contingency measure, like an alternative channel for contacting customers through e-mail or websites, to ensure that their operations are not jeopardised should such an outage occur.

Cybersecurity expert Aloysius Cheang, who is a board member of cybersecurity professional association (ISC)2, said that app outages are common and should be expected as more services go digital.

He added that it is important for firms to diversify their communications channels so that operations are not crippled by a single point of failure.

Global searches for “WhatsApp Alternative” surged after users began to notice the outage of the service, according to Google Trends. Searches for messaging apps like Signal and Threema were trending at the time.

Besides businesses, seniors and other users who are not accustomed to using multiple messaging apps may find themselves abruptly cut off from their loved ones, said Prof Lim Sun Sun, a professor of communication and technology at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Users who aren’t tech-savvy may prefer using WhatsApp as its features are straightforward compared to alternative messaging apps, said Prof Lim.

She said: “Most phones aren’t set up in a way that is accessible to people who are not tech-savvy, so those who are familiar can help others to set up these functions strategically to make apps more visible and accessible.”

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