WhatsApp sues Israel's NSO for alleged cyber espionage, targeting civil society worldwide

WION Web Team
San Francisco, United States Updated: Oct 30, 2019, 08:08 AM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

WhatsApp head Will Cathcart said, 'while their attack was highly sophisticated, NSO's attempts to cover their tracks were not entirely successful'.

WhatsApp on Tuesday sued Israeli technology firm NSO group for allegedly targeting "human rights defenders and journalists" as part of a concentrated cyber espionage campaign.

WhatsApp head Will Cathcart said a complaint has been filed in a US federal court "attributed to technology company called NSO Group." 

"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," Cathcart said in his blog, adding, "in addition, as our complaint notes, we have tied certain WhatsApp accounts used during the attacks back to NSO."

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"While their attack was highly sophisticated, their attempts to cover their tracks were not entirely successful," Cathcart informed.

"It targeted at least 100 human-rights defenders, journalists and other members of civil society across the world. This should serve as a wake-up call for technology companies, governments and all Internet users," Cathcart warned.

Explaining how NSO reportedly targeted users, Cathcart said: "A user would receive what appeared to be a video call, but this was not a normal call. After the phone rang, the attacker secretly transmitted malicious code in an effort to infect the victim’s phone with spyware. The person did not even have to answer the call."

"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," he said in his blog.

WhatsApp is used by some 1.5 billion people monthly and it uses a highly sophisticated end-to-end encrypted messages that cannot be deciphered by WhatsApp or other third parties.

"NSO has previously denied any involvement in the attack, stating that “under no circumstances would NSO be involved in the operating … of its technology.” But our investigation found otherwise. Now, we are seeking to hold NSO accountable under US state and federal laws, including the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act," Cathcart said.

The lawsuit seeks to have NSO barred from accessing or attempting to access WhatsApp and Facebook's services and seeks unspecified damages.

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