Friday, 22 November, 2019

Government and military hit by WhatsApp hack

Facebook permanently deletes the accounts of NSO workers WhatsApp spyware was used to snoop on 2 dozen Indian activists and journalists (Updated)
Travis Berry | 02 November, 2019, 00:10

The people, whose WhatsApp accounts are safe for now, the company representative said, were contacted either by Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab or WhatsApp to be informed of the spying, which may or may not have been successful.

He also posted that "a government that spies on journalists/activists/Opposition leaders and treats its own citizens like criminals has lost the right to lead in our democracy".

"Your account has been deleted for not following our terms", said a message sent to one employee by Facebook-owned Instagram.

WhatsApp has not shared details of the agencies that used the spyware to target users.

While it's now not determined who previous skool the instrument to hack officials' phones, NSO has mentioned it sells its spyware and adware completely to authorities customers. In December 2018, Omar Abdulaziz - a Saudi Arabian dissident who was close to Khashoggi - joined with a group of seven activists and journalists who filed a lawsuit against NSO in Israel and Cyprus, charging that NSO helped the royal court take over the murdered journalist's smartphone and intercept his communications and that all their phones had similarly been compromised. The WhatsApp exploit from May 2019 was one such vector.

Following the disclosure by WhatsApp, the Indian government has asked the messaging platform to explain the matter and list out the measures that have been taken by it to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indians.

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The Cyber & Information Security (CIS) division of Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday said that there was no information on any order being given to purchase Israeli sypware Pegasus, implying that this arm of the ministry had not bought the software which is at the centre of an alleged snooping row globally, and in India. Govt is committed to protecting privacy of all Indian citizens. Based on the analysis of data movement patterns on the internet, the lab believes Abdulaziz's phone has been infected and that "the targeting occurred while Abdulaziz, who received asylum in Canada, was attending university in Quebec".

"A user would receive what appeared to be a video call, but this was not a normal call", Cathcart said of the cyberattack.

An article published in the Indian Express notes: "At least two dozen academic, lawyers, Dalit activists and journalists in India were contacted and alerted by WhatsApp that their phones had been under state-of-the-art surveillance for a two-week period until May 2019". "I am a Hindi journalist, with little knowledge of how these technologies work. Later when I tried calling him, he said that he was busy", the lawyer told TNM.

NSO Group's response to incidents of operators unlawfully using its software to persecute dissidents, activists and journalists has been consistent: it repeatedly points out that Pegasus is supposed to be used exclusively by governments, to enable them to invisibly track criminals and terrorists. The spyware called "Pegasus" used a vulnerability in WhatsApp to target its victims. An industry source familiar with the whole brouhaha, however, directed The Register to a passage in WhatsApp's court paperwork that sought to permanently bar NSO Group, as well as its agents and employees, from ever again "accessing or attempting to access WhatsApp's and Facebook's service, platform, and computer systems".

NSO denied the allegations.

The firm has been adamant that it only licenses its software to governments for "fighting crime and terror" and that it investigates credible allegations of misuse, but activists argue the technology has been instead used for human rights abuses.

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