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Spyware used to target journalists, lawyers and dissenters

Spyware used to target journalists, lawyers and dissenters

screenshot of messaging apps

Facebook-owned company Whatsapp has startled billions of social media users over the world with its complaint in a US court against Israeli tech company NSO of using spyware to snoop on journalists and human rights defenders across the world.

The 15-page filing by Whatsapp in a district court in California has sent shock waves across users of the messaging app as well as those using other/similar apps and were sanguine that these offered enough protection. Most of these apps have garnered a high number of users on the basis of their state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption services that prevent any interception. With its service reputation on the line, Whatsapp management have taken an offensive stand against NSO Groups hacking.

Reports and Whatsapps own admissions suggest that a Israeli company called NSO Group Tech Ltd and another Q Cyber Tech Ltd used malware to infiltrate phones in order to snoop on their users. The spyware was introduced into the phones using data voice calls over Whatsapp. Once in the phone, the malware could look through email accounts and other social media platforms including Facebook. The spyware could be used to infiltrate both Android and iPhone phones.

However, Pegasus is not new. In 2016, Huffington Post reported that Apple had released security updates (iOs 9.3.5) following the first known attack. There were followups, the last known to be 12.4. If Whatsapps allegations are true, NSO has also developed its malware to withstand/bypass security measures added by Apple.

While Whatsapp has sent out security notifications to some, in India, many have claimed that they were also targeted by the malware. With the help of Citizen Labs, Whatsapp was able to track down some of those whose phones were infected and worked with them to fix the flaw and make users more aware of how to keep their phones secure from attacks.

In India, lawyer Prashant Bhushan has threatened to sue the government in a PIL, following allegations that some government agencies used pegasus to snoop on journalists and others. In the meantime, ministers played whataboutery on social media.

Following the attacks, many have started to migrate from Whatsapp to other platforms such as Signal, without realising that the the encryption used in Signal has been developed by the same person who later developed it for Whatsapp.

Is switching apps the answer? founder-editor Pratik Sinha answers it here.

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