Tags: whatsapp | facebook | israel | hack

Report: WhatsApp Used to Target Govt Officials Worldwide

Report: WhatsApp Used to Target Govt Officials Worldwide
(Getty Images)

Friday, 01 November 2019 06:05 AM

Senior government officials in multiple U.S.-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used Facebook Inc's WhatsApp to take over users' phones, according to people familiar with the messaging company's investigation.

Sources familiar with WhatsApp's internal investigation into the breach said a "significant" portion of the known victims are high-profile government and military officials spread across at least 20 countries on five continents. Many of the nations are U.S. allies, they said.

The hacking of a wider group of top government officials' smartphones than previously reported suggests the WhatsApp cyber intrusion could have broad political and diplomatic consequences.

WhatsApp filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Israeli hacking tool developer NSO Group. The software giant alleges that NSO Group built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users between April 29, 2019, and May 10, 2019.

The Israeli government on Friday denied any involvement in the alleged NSO cyberhack.

The total number of WhatsApp users hacked could be even higher. A London-based human rights lawyer, who was among the targets, sent Reuters photographs showing attempts to break into his phone dating back to April 1.

While it is not clear who used the software to hack officials' phones, NSO has said it sells its spyware exclusively to government customers.

Some victims are in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India, said people familiar with the investigation. Reuters could not verify whether the government officials were from those countries or elsewhere.

Some Indian nationals have gone public with allegations they were among the targets over the past couple of days; they include journalists, academics, lawyers and defenders of India's Dalit community.

NSO said in a statement that it was "not able to disclose who is or is not a client or discuss specific uses of its technology." Previously it has denied any wrongdoing, saying its products are only meant to help governments catch terrorists and criminals.

Distancing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government from the alleged attempts to send malware to the mobile devices of a number of Whatsapp users, Israeli security cabinet minister Zeev Elkin said that if anyone had done anything "forbidden" they could expect to find themselves in court.

"NSO is a private player using capabilities that Israelis have, thousands of people are in the cyber field, but there is no Israeli government involvement here, everyone understands that, this is not about the state of Israel," Elkin told 102.FM Tel Aviv Radio.

On Tuesday, WhatsApp sued NSO Group accusing it of helping government spies break into the phones of roughly 1,400 users across four continents in a hacking spree whose targets included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.

The Facebook-owned software giant alleges that NSO Group built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users between April 29, 2019, and May 10, 2019.

On Thursday Reuters reported that senior government officials in many U.S.-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used WhatsApp to take over users’ phones, according to people familiar with the messaging company’s investigation.

NSO has denied the allegations "in the strongest possible terms," saying it would fight them "vigorously."

WhatsApp is used by 1.5 billion people monthly and has often touted a high level of security, including end-to-end encrypted messages that cannot be deciphered by WhatsApp or other third parties.

In his radio interview Elkin said "I don't see any political fallout from this incident."

He added: "It is true that when people do things that are forbidden - I have no way of determining whether they did indeed do anything forbidden - then the justice system here and in other countries will throw the book at them.

© 2020 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

   
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Senior government officials in multiple U.S.-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used Facebook Inc's WhatsApp to take over users' phones, according to people familiar with the messaging company's investigation.Sources familiar with...
whatsapp, facebook, israel, hack
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2019-05-01
Friday, 01 November 2019 06:05 AM
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