On Tuesday, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in the United States against the Israeli security company NSO and accused it of helping government espionage services to invade the phones of some 1,400 online messaging users around the world.
WhatsApp filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in the United States against the Israeli surveillance company NSO and accused it of helping the government’s spy services to invade the phones of some 1,400 online messaging users.
In documents submitted to a federal court in San Francisco, the Facebook Company accused NSO of facilitating piracy campaigns in 20 countries, aimed at diplomats, political opponents, journalists and senior government officials, among others.
No identity of the alleged targets is revealed by WhatsApp, which only indicates in the documents that it has detected piracy in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The NSO denied the charges. “NSO’s sole purpose is to provide technology to authorized intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies to help them combat terrorism and serious crime,” said the Israeli company in a statement.
According to WhatsApp, the cyber-attacks used the app’s videophone system to send malware to different users’ mobile devices.
This malware would enable NSO customers – so-called governments and intelligence agencies – to spy on the owner of a phone and investigate his/her “digital life.
The WhatsApp application, which is used by about 1.5 billion people every month, claims a high level of security, including encrypted messages that are supposedly unreadable by the company or others.
Governments are increasingly using advanced hacking software to maximize digital surveillance of their citizens but rarely publicly disclose their capabilities in this area.
According to lawyer Scott Watnik, chairman of the Cybersecurity Task Force at the New York firm Wilk Auslander, WhatsApp’s approach is completely new.
Large service providers tend not to pursue such lawsuits for fear of having to reveal their secret codes, he said and added that other companies would be interested in following the progress of this procedure.
WhatsApp is asking the U.S. courts to deny the NSO access to its services and those of Facebook and is demanding an undisclosed fee.
NSO’s practices were closely monitored after the Israeli company’s spyware software was accused of playing a role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. One of the opponent’s friends is one of seven journalists and activists who have filed a lawsuit against NSO for hacking into their phones.