WhatsApp Users Targeted in Spyware Attack

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

WhatsApp urges users to upgrade after discovering spyware vulnerability

The Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, said in a tweet it believed an attacker tried to target a human rights lawyer as recently as Sunday using this flaw, but was blocked by WhatsApp.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International is behind legal action to revoke the NSO Group's export licence in Israel, after an Amnesty staff member was targeted last August by Pegasus.

NSO said its technology was licensed to government agencies "for the sole goal of fighting crime and terror", adding that those agencies determine how the technology is used without any involvement from the company. It released a software update to improve security on Monday.

The revelation adds to the questions over the reach of the Israeli company's powerful spyware, which can hijack mobile phones, control their cameras and effectively turn them into pocket-sized surveillance devices.

The vulnerability was discovered by WhatsApp in early May.

WhatsApp was targeted by an Israeli company that provides hacking tools to Saudi Arabia and installed malware on targets phones by simply calling their number, according to reports.

Researches at Citizen Lab estimate that NSO tools have been used by at least 45 countries - including the USA and the United Kingdom - to spy on civilians.

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This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company known to work with governments to deliver spyware that reportedly takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems.

According to WhatsApp, only a "select number" of users were targeted but the exact number is not yet known, and an update to the app is necessary to ensure users' safety.

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

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.

Experts said the case highlighted the ability of sophisticated attackers to exploit gaps in code to view messages on a target's phone even if those messages were safely encrypted in transit.

Responding specifically to the apparent targeting of the lawyer, NSO Group said in a statement, "NSO would not or could not use its technology in its own right to target any person or organization, including this individual". For iOS, you need to check the App Store, and make sure you're using WhatsApp version 2.19.51.

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