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WhatsApp Malware: WhatsApp sues Israel's NSO for allegedly helping spies hack phones around the world

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WhatsApp sues Israel's NSO for allegedly helping spies hack phones around the world


Facebook on Tuesday sued Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group for creating software tools that were allegedly used by its clients, including authoritarian regimes, to read the WhatsApp messages of journalists and human rights workers.
The lawsuit says that between April and May 2019, NSO Group’s flagship product, Pegasus, was used to access WhatsApp messages on 1,400 mobile phones.
Attorneys, journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats and other senior foreign government officials were targeted, WhatsApp-owner Facebook said in the lawsuit.

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Research groups have also found that the governments of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico used Pegasus too. And the lawsuit says that WhatsApp users in those countries were among those hacked.
In response to the lawsuit, NSO Group said in a statement that its technology is meant to help government intelligence and law enforcement agencies fight terrorism and serious crime. “It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years,” the statement reads.
NSO Group also said that it takes any action after it detects misuse. But it was only in September—after public criticism that Pegasus lets authoritarian governments spy on dissidents—that NSO Group added a provision against human rights violations in its contracts with customers.

Although WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, which means that outside hackers can’t intercept messages during their transmission, NSO Group used sophisticated tools to access messages after they had already been decrypted, the lawsuit says.
NSO Group accomplished this by setting up its own WhatsApp accounts and remote servers. The company then called users from those accounts from their own servers in order to secretly inject malicious code onto a target’s phone. The hack worked even if a user never answered the call, according to the lawsuit.
“Defendants reverse-engineered the WhatsApp app and developed a program to enable them to emulate legitimate WhatsApp network traffic in order to transmit malicious code—undetected—to Target Devices over WhatsApp servers,” the lawsuit says.

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