WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, accused the Israeli-based company NSO Group of sending malware to 1,400 mobile devices in 20 countries, such as Bahrain, The United Arab Emirates, and Mexico.
Target is: Activists, journalists, and diplomats
According to WhatsApp, spyware is targetting journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, and diplomats. In the court filing, WhatsApp said NSO Group reverse-engineered the WhatsApp app and created a software that mimics WhatsApp network traffic to transmit spyware that can take over mobile phones and allows their clients, including governments, to spy the infected devices.
This is the first time an encrypted messaging provider is filing a lawsuit of this kind and WhatsApp aims to a permanent injunction banning NSO Group from using the service. The lawsuit is filed in a California court and WhatsApp is claiming that the NSO group is violated US federal law and California state law against computer fraud.
Positive step forward
WhatsApp also announced that they had worked with Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto’s Munk School to be able to identify the victims of the alleged hacks. They also claimed that they are also approaching the members of civil society who are affected by the malware. John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, said the lawsuit is “a major positive step forward for human rights protections online and will absolutely set a precedent”.
NSO Group said:
“In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them. The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years.