WhatsApp vulnerability allowed government-grade spyware to be installed on phones

WhatsApp vulnerability allowed secretive installation of spyware

WhatsApp has alerted human rights groups and the US Justice Department.

Attackers installed Pegasus on target users' phones through WhatsApp's call function, according to the company; users did not even have to answer the call to become infected.

WhatsApp claims to have 1.5 billion users around the world and it released a software update yesterday.

The Facebook-owned company confirmed that a "select number" of users had been victims and that the bug, which affects all but the latest version of the app on iOS and Android, was orchestrated by an "advanced cyber actor".

Spyware users were able to inject malicious code into their target device by initiating a voice call to the corresponding WhatsApp account.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International and others will this week urge the Israeli military to ban the export of NSO Group's software on the grounds it's sold to governments with, ahem, questionable track records on human rights. The report said that calls could disappear from the call log, transmitting the spyware to the unwitting victim. But it may have been used to attack a UK-based human rights lawyer this past Sunday, according to Citizen Lab, a watchdog group at the University of Toronto, which has been investigating NSO Group's activities.

More news: Gunmen kill six during Catholic mass in Burkina Faso

A spokesperson for NSO told Mashable it was investigating the WhatsApp issue.

The company said the attack has the hallmarks of a private company that reportedly works with governments to deliver spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems. "We have briefed a number of human rights organisations to share the information we can, and to work with them to notify civil society".

NSO limits sales of its spyware, Pegasus, to state intelligence agencies.

"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", it continued. "NSO would not, or could not, use its technology in its own right to target any person or organisation, including this individual [the United Kingdom lawyer]".

WhatsApp, one of the most popular messaging apps out there, has once again been the subject of hacking, but this time the method used involves a government-grade spyware.

Amnesty International, which has previously reported being targeted by the software, is now supporting legal action that would compel the Israeli Ministry of Defence to revoke the export license of NSO Group due to its "chilling attacks on human rights defenders around the world".

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