After Hacking WhatsApp, Attackers Installed Spyware on People’s Phones

Facebook’s WhatsApp, which has 1.5 billion users, has found out in the beginning of the month that “an advanced cyber actor” has infected an unknown number of people’s smartphones with a malicious spyware.

The issue was first spotted by the Financial Times (FT) who reported it on Monday. They also notified the US Department of Justice about the hack last week. Due to a Whatsapp vulnerability, bad actors installed a surveillance technology by ringing up targets using the application’s phone function. As per FT this spyware was developed by Israeli cyber surveillance company NSO Group and affected Android, iPhones and Windows phones. Their sophisticated Pegasus software is known to have targeted in the past human-rights activists. However, NSO group denied having any involvement in this hack and said that its technology is “licensed to authorized government agencies for the sole purpose of fighting crime and terror”. “We investigate any credible allegations of misuse and if necessary, we take action, including shutting down the system. Under no circumstances would NSO be involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology, which is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the company added.

In a response to FT WhatsApp said that “this attack has all the hallmarks of a private company known to work with governments to deliver spyware that reportedly takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems”.

In another statement is was mentioned that they briefed a number of human rights organizations to share information and work together to notify civil society.

“WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices. We are constantly working alongside industry partners to provide the latest security enhancements to help protect our users,” a spokesman said. WhatsApp did not elaborate on this further.

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