By Clark Savage, Jr.
Did an Israeli firm use WhatsApp as part of a spy program?
WhatsApp alleges that it did. In fact, it has reportedly lodged a lawsuit against an Israel-based cybersurveillance company called NSO Group in federal court.
The allegation is that NSO’s surveillance technology was used on the Facebook-owned messaging service as part of a program that kept eyes and ears on both reporters and activists. NSO is suspected of spying on over 1,400 individuals located in nearly two dozen nations.
“The lawsuit did not say who was using NSO Group technology to target WhatsApp users. But the area codes for a number of phones that had been attacked indicated a focus on people in Mexico, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates,” reported the New York Times. “The filing of the lawsuit, believed to be the first by a tech company against a for-profit digital surveillance company, could be the “beginning of the end” of the rapid and largely unregulated adoption of these surveillance technologies, said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab.”
According to the web site threatpost.com, “On the heels of Facebook filing a lawsuit against Israeli company NSO Group — alleging that it was behind the massive WhatsApp hack earlier this year — privacy experts say that the move is “popping the unaccountable bubble” that commercial spyware companies have carved out for themselves.”
According to the story, WhatsApp has claimed that “cyber security experts at the Citizen Lab, an academic research group based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School, helped them launch the investigation into the alleged hack, which so far has impacted approximately 1,400 mobile devices. Citizen Lab for its part said that during its investigation it identified over 100 cases of abusive targeting of human rights defenders and journalists in at least 20 countries across the globe, stemming from NSO Group’s spyware.”
Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp, pointed out in a piece published by the Washington Post that “after months of investigation, we can say who was behind this attack. Today, we have filed a complaint in federal court that explains what happened and attributes the intrusion to an international technology company called NSO Group.”
Cathcart’s story continued, “How can we say this with confidence? As we gathered the information that we lay out in our complaint, we learned that the attackers used servers and Internet-hosting services that were previously associated with NSO. In addition, as our complaint notes, we have tied certain WhatsApp accounts used during the attacks back to NSO. While their attack was highly sophisticated, their attempts to cover their tracks were not entirely successful.”