Anxiety over security is running wild. Its latest whistle stop is NSO Group, an Israel-based company that some are alleging has supplied systems for spying on human-rights activists and journalists.
The latest claim hurled at the firm is that its technology is able to take advantage of a security gap in WhatsApp that lets it intercept digital communications of iPhone and Android phone users.
Insiders also claim to have found spyware that carries signs that the technology came from NSO Group.
“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,” the company said in a statement.
“The WhatsApp hole was used to target a London lawyer who has been involved in lawsuits that accuse NSO Group of providing tools to hack the phones of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident in Canada; a Qatari citizen; and a group of Mexican journalists and activists, the researchers said. The researchers believe the list of targets could be much longer,” reported the New York Times. “Digital attackers could use the vulnerability to insert malicious code and steal data from an Android phone or an iPhone simply by placing a WhatsApp call, even if the victim did not pick up the call. As WhatsApp’s engineers examined the vulnerability, they concluded that it was similar to other tools from the NSO Group, because of its digital footprint.”
NSO has released a statement that says, among other things, “NSO’s technology is licensed to authorized government agencies for the sole purpose of fighting crime and terror. The company does not operate the system, and after a rigorous licensing and vetting process, intelligence and law enforcement determine how to use the technology to support their public safety missions.
“We investigate any credible allegations of misuse and if necessary, we take action, including shutting down the system,” the statement continued. “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. NSO would not or could not use its technology in its own right to target any person or organization, including this individual.”
Before the latest WhatsApp revelation, NSO’s spyware “has repeatedly been found deployed to hack journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders and dissidents,” according to beloitdailynews.com. “Most notably, the spyware was implicated in the gruesome killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year and whose body has never been found.”
The news organization added that several alleged targets of the spyware, “including a close friend of Khashoggi and several Mexican civil society figures, are currently suing NSO in an Israeli court over the hacking. On Monday, Amnesty International — which said last year that one its staffers was also targeted with the spyware — said it would join in a legal bid to force Israel’s Ministry of Defense to suspend NSO’s export license.”