WhatApps has confirmed that several Indian journalists, at least two dozen academics, lawyers, Dalit activists were spied through Israeli spyware called ‘Pegasus’. Pegasus is developed by the Israeli cyber-surveillance group called NSO Group. WhatsApp said that they have sued NSO Group in the U.S Federal Court in San Francisco.
The attacks reportedly took place during a 14-day period from the end of April to the middle of May, when the general election was taking place in India. Refusing to divulge identities or the exact number of those targeted in India, WhatsApp said it had in May stopped a highly sophisticated cyber-attack that exploited its video calling system to send malware to its users.
In a press release announcing its decision to sue NSO, WhatsApp said: “Human rights groups have documented a disturbing trend that such tools have been used to attack journalists and human rights defenders. Working with research experts at the Citizen Lab, we believe this attack targeted at least 100 members of civil society, which is an unmistakable pattern of abuse. We are committed to doing all we can, working with industry partners, to protect our users and guard against these kinds of threats”.
WhatsApp said that they have sent a special message to all the victims of the attack to inform them what had happened. The lawsuit says that the Pegasus software was used to hijack smartphones running on iOS, Android and BlackBerry operating systems. The social media giant describes this issue as, “A buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp VOIP stack allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of RTCP packets sent to a target phone number.
According to reports, NSO Group claims that they only sold ‘Pegasus’ to government agencies and that the software is not designed or licenced to snoop on human rights activists and journalists.
Meanwhile, the Indian IT Ministry has written to WhatsApp, seeking a detailed response by Monday. A senior government official told PTI that WhatsApp has been asked to give a detailed response to the entire allegations and the extent of users compromised in India