WhatsApp Users Targeted in Spyware Attack

15 May, 2019, 18:45 | Author: Wade Massey
  • WhatsApp vulnerability allowed government-grade spyware to be installed on phones

Bad news for WhatsApp users: The Facebook subsidiary, which now has 1.5 billion users, was hacked and attackers were reportedly able to install spyware on some users' smartphones.

WhatsApp told BBC News it first found the flaw earlier this month and warned human rights groups, some of its security vendors and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The details: The security hole let an attacker read messages on the target's device.

The company said it was still investigating the breach but believed only a "select number of users were targeted through this vulnerability by an advanced cyber actor".

NSO Group told the Financial Times it was investigating the issue and under no circumstances would it "be involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology", which it said was exclusively operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Coincidentally, one UK-based attorney targeted by the spyware is now involved in a lawsuit against NSO Group - the Israeli company which developed the software. NSO, however, rejected the notion that it was involved.

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Asked about the report, NSO said its technology is licensed to authorised government agencies "for the sole objective of fighting crime and terror", and that it does not operate the system itself.

"NSO would not, or could not, use its technology in its own right to target any person or organisation, including this individual [the lawyer]".

Pegasus, the malicious software in question, has been developed by the Israeli company NSO and sold to various governments and government agencies to fight crime and terrorism, apparently, however, it has been used for very different purposes in recent years, particularly against activists for civil rights, journalists and dissidents.

"The Israeli MOD has ignored mounting evidence linking NSO Group to attacks on human rights defenders, which is why we are supporting this case".

A WhatsApp spokesman, who would not be further identified, said an amount "in the dozens at least" would not be inaccurate. CitizenLab and WhatsApp confirmed that it was a way of delivering Pegasus spyware with "zero click", he said.

The social company, which is owned by Facebook, on Monday urged its 1.5 billion users worldwide to update the app on their devices. The latest version is 2.19.134. While it has begun an investigation into the vulnerability, WhatsApp has yet to estimate how many people were affected or targeted.

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