WhatsApp sues Israeli firm for hacking journalists, others phone

A 32-year-old diplomatic correspondent in New Delhi received a curious call from a Toronto-based group called Citizen Lab last month

A 32-year-old diplomatic correspondent in New Delhi received a curious call from a Toronto-based group called Citizen Lab last month

Reports indicate that over 20 Indians were alerted about their phones being placed under surveillance for two weeks in May this year, in the run up to the nation's parliamentary elections.

The existence of Pegasus came to fore in May when cybersecurity company Citizen Labs claimed that the spyware was being used to exploit a vulnerability in WhatsApp.

The suit filed in a California federal court contended that NSO Group tried to infect approximately 1,400 "target devices" with malicious software to steal valuable information from those using the messaging app.

The IT Minister also said that the government is committed to protecting the privacy of all Indian citizens and that the government agencies have a "well-established protocol" for the interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central and state governments, for clearly stated reasons in the "national interest". WhatsApp took the surveillance contractor to court blaming them for the silent call exploit.

The lawsuit specifically refers to NSO Group's notorious Pegasus - a type of spyware known as a remote access Trojan (RAT).

The operator can even remotely turn on the phone's camera and microphone to capture the user's activity and vicinity.

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According to WhatsApp, at least 1,400 people were targeted by Pegasus spyware through missed calls on the platform.

Who was hacked using Pegasus?

WhatsApp head Will Cathcart posted an op-ed for the Washington Post after filing the sit that said they "learned that the attackers used servers and Internet-hosting services that were previously associated" with NSO Group". WhatsApp now knows who was behind the attack. The total number of WhatsApp users hacked could be even higher.

Back in September 2018, University of Toronto's Citizen Lab disclosed as many as 36 NSO Group customers who were involved in targeted surveillance operations across 45 countries.

Ravindranath Balla got messages from a person part of Citizen Lab in the first week of October, however he ignored the messages believing them to be spam.

After the incident, Citizen Lab volunteered to assist WhatsApp establish circumstances the place the suspected targets of this assault have been members of civil society, resembling human rights defenders and journalists. However, NSO Group spyware is being sold to government clients without appropriate controls over how it is employed by those clients.

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This advisory doesn't mention the "Pegasus spyware", however, CERT-IN shared few links along with details about the vulnerability in the note.

Pegasus has been unleashed against Mexican political activists and targeted at the human rights-focused NGO Amnesty International in a spearphishing attack. The NSO Group terminated its agreement with Saudi Arabia following the Khashoggi murder amid rumors that its spyware may have played a role in tracking the journalist.

WhatsApp has requested an injunction to ban the use of its platform by the defendant. It also seeks unspecified damages.

At least two of the activists allegedly on the snoop list have alleged the role of the government, which has emphatically denied it.

"In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today's allegations and will vigorously fight them", NSO said in a statement.

The firm has been adamant that it only licenses its software to governments for "fighting crime and terror" and that it investigates credible allegations of misuse, but activists argue the technology has been instead used for human rights abuses.

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