Facebook and its chat platform WhatsApp have sued shadowy Israeli cyber-intelligence firm NSO Group. WhatsApp has accused the firm of exploiting a vulnerability in the encrypted messaging app to break into the phones of over 1,400 users across four continents. The suit has been filed in a US federal court. According to the suit, the surveillance firm helped the government in targeting people including political dissidents, diplomats, senior government officials, and journalists. The social media giant has accused the firm of creating bogus WhatsApp accounts using mobile phone numbers from different countries to facilitate the government in hacking sprees across 20 countries. However, the only countries that have been identified so far are Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Mexico. Terming it ‘an unmistakable pattern of abuse,’ WhatsApp said that at least 100 civil society members had been targeted.
The messaging app said NSO Group, which has created a network of remote servers, used those bogus WhatsApp accounts from around April 29 to May 10 this year to deploy malware (CVE-2019-3568) to targeted people. After detecting attacks on its servers, WhatsApp fixed it in May 2019. At that time, the company told journalists that the attack “has all the hallmarks of a private company which is infamous for delivering spyware to governments that reportedly takes over the functions of smartphone operating systems.” The messaging has now demanded a permanent injunction on Israeli security Firm’s use of its products.
However, NSO has denied the allegations saying that they will vigorously fight the suit. It claimed that the sole purpose of developing such technology is to help licensed government law enforcement and intelligence agencies to help them fight against serious crime and terrorism. However, its CEO Shalev Hulio has justified using its technologies to target lawyers and journalists and claimed that it only learns of abuse from media reports. WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app and has over 1.5 billion users monthly. It is considered to be one of the safest chat apps with end-to-end encrypted messages that cannot be deciphered even by WhatsApp or any other third parties.