WhatsApp Exploit Allowed Voice Calls To Inject Spyware

EnlargeSanteri Viinamäki

On Friday last week, WhatsApp began rolling out a server-side fix and issued an all update to users of the messaging app on Monday.

In a statement, NSO Group defended its technologies, saying they're designed for the purposes of helping governments fight crime and terrorism.

WhatsApp, an extremely popular messaging app, discovered a security vulnerability in early May, according to the Financial Times.

Attackers could transmit the malicious code to a target's device by calling the user and infecting the call whether or not the recipient answered the call. Its primary product, Pegasus, is able to turn on and collect data from a phone's microphone and cameras, and also can extract location logs, emails, and messages.

WhatsApp told the BBC its security team was the first to identify the flaw, and shared that information with human rights groups, selected security vendors and the US Department of Justice earlier this month.

It has also alerted United States law enforcement to the exploit, and published a "CVE notice" to other cybersecurity experts alerting them to "common vulnerabilities and exposures".

"The attack has all the hallmarks of a private company reportedly that works with governments to deliver spyware, " WhatsApp said.

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A vulnerability in the Facebook-owned WhatsApp allowed spyware to be installed, according to the Financial Times.

"We believe a select number of users were targeted through this vulnerability by an advanced cyber actor".

NSO Group told the Financial Times it was investigating the issue and under no circumstances would it "be involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology", which it said was exclusively operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

A spokesperson for NSO told Mashable it was investigating the WhatsApp issue.

Exploiting this kind of vulnerability is non-trivial, though there are highly skilled organizations and companies out there developing tools that can achieve this level of surveillance, tools that are sold to government agencies and other groups to use against specific targets.

"This was a tough decision for us to make, but the right one in order to give people better ways to keep in touch with friends, family, and loved ones using WhatsApp". The firm said its software is operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. "NSO would not or could not use its technology in its own right to target any person or organisation".

Amnesty International says that the "Pegasus" software has been used to target "at least 24 human rights defenders". "The attack on Amnesty International was the final straw", Danna Ingleton, deputy director of Amnesty Tech, said in a statement.

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