New Delhi: WhatsApp on Thursday confirmed that an Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group was behind the spyware technology named Pegasus that helped the spies of unnamed entities hack into the phones of Indian journalists and human rights activists, according to news agency PTI.
As per reports, an estimated 1,400 users were targeted upon by the spies. Investigations have shown that the users who were preyed upon span across four continents and were mostly diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials. Taking stock of the sensitive situation, the Facebook-owned company WhatsApp announced its decision to sue the alleged NSO Group.
It must be noted that in the month of May this year, WhatsApp claimed to have to stopped a highly sophisticated cyberattack that exploited its video calling system to send malware to its users.
The mobile messaging giant said it had sent a special WhatsApp message to approximately 1,400 users that it has “reason to believe were impacted by this attack to directly inform them about what happened”.
WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion users globally, of which India alone accounts for about 400 million. A WhatsApp spokesperson, as quoted by news agency PTI, said: “Indian users were among those contacted by us this week”.
WhatsApp had on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in a California federal court against Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group, which allegedly developed the spyware, saying an attempt was made to infect approximately 1,400 “target devices” globally, including some in India, with malicious software to steal valuable information from those using the messaging app.
NSO has denied the allegations made by WhatsApp. Stating that it will contend the allegations, it said: “the sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licenced government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime”.
WhatsApp said it “believes the attack targeted at least 100 members of civil society… this number may grow higher as more victims come forward”.
WhatsApp Head Will Cathcart said these victims include human rights defenders, journalists and other members of the civil society across the world.
“Tools that enable surveillance into our private lives are being abused, and the proliferation of this technology into the hands of irresponsible companies and governments puts us all at risk,” Cathcart said in an op-ed in The Washington Post.
Cathcart asserted that WhatsApp was committed to the fundamental right to privacy and that it is working to stay ahead of those who seek to violate that right.
A cybersecurity research lab at the University of Toronto, Citizen Lab, had helped WhatsApp investigate the hacking incident.
(With inputs from PTI)