WhatsApp says users should upgrade app after attack report

EnlargeSanteri Viinamäki

Several alleged targets of the spyware, including a close friend of Khashoggi and several Mexican civil society figures, are now suing NSO in an Israeli court over the hacking.

The vulnerability in WhatsApp was uncovered earlier this month. The spyware could be installed even if users didn't answer the call.

Once installed on a phone, the software can extract data including text messages, contacts, Global Positioning System location, emails and browsing history.

According to a report in the Financial Times on Tuesday, the spyware that exploited the vulnerability was Pegasus, made by the Israeli company NSO.

NSO said in a statement that its technology is used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to fight "crime and terror".

Under no circumstances would NSO be involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology, which is exclusively operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

WhatsApp has briefed human rights organisations on the matter, but did not identify them.

Ireland's Data Protection Commission said WhatsApp notified the regulator on Monday of a "serious security vulnerability" and that it is actively engaging with the company to check if any European Union user data has been compromised.

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However, NSO's Pegasus spyware was used to spy on several prominent dissidents, human rights activists, and journalists.

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WhatsApp is a vocal champion of end-to-end encryption, which is created to keep messages, photos, videos, calls and other exchanges between the sender and recipient. Researchers at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab have told the Times a lawyer representing the plaintiffs was targeted with Pegasus through the WhatsApp vulnerability on Sunday. The company assumes only selected users were targeted by an "advanced cyber actor".

To prevent your own handset from being attacked, ensure you have updated to the latest version of WhatsApp.

It's not immediately clear how numerous app's 1.5 billion users were affected but a WhatsApp spokesperson told the Financial Times that "a number in the dozens would not be inaccurate".

The human rights group Amnesty International claims that Israel's Ministry of Defense (MOD) has jeopardized human rights by allowing NSO Group to export its products overseas.

The Facebook-owned messaging service said in a statement that it distributed a server-side fix on Friday and an app update to users on Monday.

The company said they have provided information to United States authorities to help with the investigation. If it shows only the option to uninstall or open, then your app has already been updated.

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