Are WhatsApp Users More Vulnerable Than They Know? Israeli Firm Hacks Phones Using the App

Published October 30th, 2019 - 10:09 GMT

WhatsApp is suing an Israeli surveillance company, NSO, for targeting 1,400 users across four continents in a hacking spree. Targets included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials. NSO has allegedly been helping government spies break into the phones by using a hacking malware. 

The news raises privacy concerns about the widely used Facebook-owned messaging app that prides itself on its end-to-end encryption. 

According to the lawsuit, a number of women previously targeted by cyber-violence, and individuals who have faced assassination attempts and threats of violence, as well as their relatives, were also the victims of the attacks.

Khashoggi’s friend Omar Abdulaziz is one of the activists and journalists who have taken the spyware firm to court over allegations that his and Khashoggi’s phones were being monitored using NSO technology.

“There must be strong legal oversight of cyber-weapons like the one used in this attack to ensure they are not used to violate individual rights and freedoms people deserve wherever they are in the world,” WhatsApp said. “Human rights groups have documented a disturbing trend that such tools have been used to attack journalists and human rights defenders.”

“This is the first time that an encrypted messaging provider is taking legal action against a private entity that has carried out this type of attack against its users,” said a WhatsApp spokesman. “In our complaint, we explain how NSO carried out this attack, including acknowledgement from an NSO employee that our steps to remediate the attack were effective.”

The social media firm is suing the Israeli Cyberweapons firm, saying it is responsible for a series of highly sophisticated cyber-attacks which it claims violated American law in an “unmistakeable pattern of abuse”.

WhatsApp’s lawsuit has demanded a permanent injunction banning NSO from accessing WhatsApp and Facebook computer systems. 

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