Social Media

WhatsApp sues Israeli company for hacking attempts on 1,400 users including over a dozen Indian journalists

Mumbai | Updated on April 29, 2020

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp has alleged that Israeli spyware company NSO has launched hacking attempts on 1,400 users including senior government officials, journalists, and human rights activists.

According to WhatsApp’s recent court filings, WhatsApp has alleged that the NSO Group is responsible for serious human rights violations, including the hacking of over a dozen Indian journalists and Rwandan dissidents, the Guardian reported.

The lawsuit comes as an addition to a similar suit filed by the Facebook entity last year against NSo for hacking attempts.

The new court filings detail how the hacking software, Pegasus was allegedly deployed against targets for hacking. WhatsApp in its lawsuit had said that according to its own investigation, Pegasus was used against 1,400 users in 2019. The probe further showed that the attacks were launched from servers controlled by NSO Group and not its government clients. These servers were an integral part of the execution of these hacking attempts where user devices were infected with Pegasus through WhatsApp phone calls.

“NSO used a network of computers to monitor and update Pegasus after it was implanted on users’ devices. These NSO-controlled computers served as the nerve centre through which NSO controlled its customers’ operation and use of Pegasus,” it said.

WhatsApp last year had filed a suit in federal court against the Israeli mobile surveillance company stating that NSO had “developed their malware to access messages and other communications after they were decrypted” on target devices, TechCrunch reported.

The attack was executed based on an audio-calling vulnerability in WhatsApp. In some cases the attack happened so quickly, the target’s phone may not have rung at all, it said.

WhatsApp head Will Cathcart had written an op-ed in the Washington past in 2019 soon after the lawsuit had been filed.

“As we gathered the information that we lay out in our complaint, we learned that the attackers used servers and Internet-hosting services that were previously associated with NSO. Also, as our complaint notes, we have tied certain WhatsApp accounts used during the attacks back to NSO. While their attack was highly sophisticated, their attempts to cover their tracks were not entirely successful,” he wrote.

NSO Group for years has claimed that government clients have purchased its spyware to track terrorists and other criminals. The company claims to have no independent knowledge of how those government clients that in the past have also included Saudi Arabia and Mexico have been using its hacking software, as per the Guardian report.

The company will be filing its response to WhatsApp’s recent lawsuit, it said.

Published on April 29, 2020

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