Recently, Facebook sued NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, saying that the company with the use of sophisticated malware targeted 1,400 WhatsApp users, which included some respected members of the civil society. According to the reports, this is the very first time that a provider of encrypted messaging took legal action against a private entity for carrying out malware attacks against the users.
In May 2019, WhatsApp had successfully stopped a sophisticated cyber-attack that was exploiting the video calling system of WhatsApp to send malware to mobile devices of WhatsApp users through missed calls.
NSO Group Accused
According to Facebook, the Israeli Firm, NSO Group, made use of a loophole of WhatsApp to hack the smartphones of the users. Facebook alleges the NSO Group of violating the laws, including the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But in a statement, the Israeli Firm has denied performing any such act of hacking. NSO Group claims the allegation to be false and promised to fight the allegations vigorously.
In an op-ed that was published by The Washington Post, Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp, wrote that NSO Group targeted a minimum of 100 journalists, human rights defenders, and other respected members of the civil society across the globe.
Israeli Firm’s Denial
But the Israeli Firm, NSO Group, said that the sole purpose of the company is to deliver technology to the law enforcement agencies and the licensed government intelligence agencies to help them fight against serious crimes as well as terrorism.
NSO Group said that their technology is not licensed or designed to be used against a journalist and human rights activists. The company says that the firm has helped in saving thousands of lives in recent years.
The attackers of WhatsApp are alleged to have inserted Pegasus into the phone of the victims by giving them a call. Even without answering the call, the victim’s phone can be infected. The lawsuit of Facebook seeks unspecified damages from the Israeli Firm. According to the Facebook lawsuit, even though the spyware is not capable of breaking through the encryption of WhatsApp, it can be able to access the messages of the users after they have been decoded on the device of the receiver.
The head of WhatsApp is confident that the NSO Group is behind the cyber-attack. To understand the actual nature of the attack, WhatsApp took the assistance of the cybersecurity experts of the Citizen Lab, which is an academic research group based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School.
WhatsApp has filed a complaint against a company named NSO Group, as well as its parent company called Q Cyber Technologies in the US Court, holding them responsible for the cyber-attack. The complaint made by WhatsApp states that the Israeli company has violated the California and US laws, as well as the Terms of Service of WhatsApp. WhatsApp is seeking a permanent ban on the NSO Group to restrict the company from using the services of WhatsApp.
Cathcart views this incidence as a wakeup call for all the governments, technology companies, and internet users across the globe.