WhatsApp: Spyware vendor NSO Group was actively involved in attacks

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WhatsApp accuses Israeli spy company NSO Group of being heavily involved in hacks on prominent users. NSO is said to have operated servers that tapped journalists, activists and dissidents in totalitarian regimes.

The allegations are in documents used in a lawsuit, writes The Guardian. That lawsuit was filed by WhatsApp against the NSO Group from Israel. The company makes spyware like the infamous Pegasus. WhatsApp says that Pegasus, among others, was used against users of the messaging app, and that NSO is violating American law.

In court documents, WhatsApp accuses NSO of not only selling tools, but also taking an active role in exploiting them. WhatsApp says that NSO itself managed the servers of the Pegasus tool. That happened in attacks on at least 1400 WhatsApp users, the company says. “NSO used a computer network to monitor and update Pegasus after it was placed on users’ devices,” WhatsApp writes in the documents. “Those computers acted as the nerve center through which NSO controlled its customers’ operations.”

NSO allegedly gained access to WhatsApp’s servers. This was done by studying the app through reverse engineering and thus circumventing the security of WhatsApp’s calling function. WhatsApp says that NSO’s method was used in at least 1,400 cases. The Pegasus spyware was used against officials, journalists and human rights activists in India and Rwanda. NSO never said who its customers are, but according to civil rights organizations such as the Canadian Citizen Lab, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kazakhstan are among the customers.

NSO has always denied that it was itself involved in the deployment of its tools. The company insists it only sells the tools to governments, and that they only use the tools “to counter terrorism, fight serious crime, and save lives.” In a response to The Guardian, the company again denies that it was itself involved in the attacks. The company plans to comment on the lawsuit next week.

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