Facebook sues Israeli co NSO for allegedly hacking WhatsApp

WhatsApp photo: Shutterstock

Facebook claims that the electronic surveillance company stole information from 1,400 users of its WhatsApp messaging service.

Facebook messaging service WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in a California federal court against Israeli electronic surveillance company NSO Group, alleging computer fraud, that it breached WhatsApp's computer systems, and "wrongfully trespassed" on Facebook property.

The lawsuit claims that NSO Group tried to infect roughly 1,400 "target devices" with malicious software to steal valuable information from human rights activists, journalists and others using the messaging app.

The lawsuit added that NSO's Pegasus software was designed to be remotely installed to hack devices using the Android, iOS, and BlackBerry operating systems. The suit claims that NSO has "reverse-engineered the WhatsApp app and developed a program to enable them to emulate legitimate WhatsApp network traffic in order to transmit malicious code" in order to hijack the devices.

WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart tweeted, "NSO Group claims they responsibly serve governments, but we found more than 100 human rights defenders and journalists targeted in an attack last May. This abuse must be stopped,"

A WhatsApp spokesperson said, "This is the first time that an encrypted messaging provider is taking legal action against a private entity that has carried out this type of attack against its users. In our complaint, we explain how NSO carried out this attack, including acknowledgement from an NSO employee that our steps to remediate the attack were effective."

NSO develops technology that provides government intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the capability to collect data and intercept communications of individuals suspected of terrorism or organized crime. However, it has been repeatedly accused of hacking violations and several months ago, European private equity firm Novalpina Capital LLP, which acquired NSO in February at a company valuation of $1 billion, pledged that it was putting a new governance framework in place, which respects human rights in accordance with UN principles.

NSO responded. "In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today's allegations and will vigorously fight them. The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years.

"The truth is that strongly encrypted platforms are often used by pedophile rings, drug kingpins and terrorists to shield their criminal activity. Without sophisticated technologies, the law enforcement agencies meant to keep us all safe face insurmountable hurdles. NSO's technologies provide proportionate, lawful solutions to this issue.

"We consider any other use of our products than to prevent serious crime and terrorism a misuse, which is contractually prohibited. We take action if we detect any misuse. This technology is rooted in the protection of human rights - including the right to life, security and bodily integrity - and that's why we have sought alignment with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to make sure our products are respecting all fundamental human rights."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 30, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

WhatsApp photo: Shutterstock
WhatsApp photo: Shutterstock
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