WhatsApp flaw allowed spyware injection via calls

EnlargeSanteri Viinamäki

The lawyer acted for a Saudi dissident who had sued NSO Group for selling its software to repressive regimes in the Middle East.

Amnesty International said one user of the spyware targeted a staff member previous year in Saudi Arabia - saying NSO's Pegasus surveillance tool was used to hijack the staffer's smartphone.

"The company has reportedly said that a small number of accounts have been affected and has told its users to update their apps using standard updates from the app store as a precaution".

It added that it does not operate the system itself and "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".

The application's vulnerability allegedly allowed Israeli-based NSO Group's targeted spyware to install itself through voice calls on both iOS and Android devices whether the user answered the infected call or not. An update to the app was published Monday, and the company is encouraging users to upgrade out of an abundance of caution. But the Financial Times, which first reported on the vulnerability, said the spyware was developed by Israel's NSO Group, whose software is known to have been used against human rights activists. Attackers installed Pegasus on target users' phones through WhatsApp's call function, according to the company.

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A recently discovered security flaw in the popular messaging app WhatsApp has been exploited to secretly install spyware onto users' devices. It is believed that was also the case here and the attack was used against specific targets.

The messaging company said it has briefed human rights organisations on the finding, and notified USA law enforcement to help them conduct an investigation.

WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging app owned by Facebook, was attacked by an unknown group of cyber hackers.

Ahmed Zidan, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said reporters, attorneys, activists and human rights defenders were the likeliest targets for hackers.

"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", an NSO Group spokesperson said. On an Android device, open the Play Store, tap on the three lines in the upper left corner, choose "My apps & games" from the menu, hit "WhatsApp", and click Update.

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