Tech

Trojans: NSO is said to have hacked government officials via Whatsapp

The Israeli Trojan manufacturer NSO is said to have hacked 1,400 Whatsapp users between April and May this year alone. According to one Report of the news agency Reuters among them were high-ranking government officials from different states. Reuters relies on sources familiar with investigating NSO attacks on Whatsapp users. Whatsapp spent months investigating the attacks with the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and gathering evidence. As a result, the company, which was acquired by Facebook in 2014, sued the Trojan manufacturer NSO on 29 October 2019.

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Already in May, Whatsapp had discovered and closed a dangerous vulnerability that had previously been used by NSO to bring the spy software Pegasus on the smartphones of Whatsapp users. A whatsapp call that did not need to be answered was enough to take control of phones running Android or iOS.

From circles familiar with Whatsapp's internal investigation, Reuters learned that high-ranking government and military officials from more than 20 states on five continents should be among those affected by the attacks. Many of the affected countries are also US allies. Which countries are exactly, the report is not clear.

Whatsapp should have informed the affected users several weeks ago. However, these had previously been compared with a list of existing requests for information from law enforcement agencies in child abuse and terrorism investigations. There were no matches, writes Reuters.

Hacked 1,400 Whatsapp users in less than two weeks

Between 29 April and 10 May alone, 1,400 Whatsapp users are said to have been attacked, and the total number of those affected could be significantly higher. The attacks target people from the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India, writes Reuters.

In addition to officials from government and military should according to the Citizen Lab at least 100 civil society activists, including human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers. The Trojan manufacturer had previously stressed that the spy software would be sold exclusively to state actors and only against terrorists and criminals used. But terrorism and crime can be defined very individually and broadly and also depend on the legal framework in each state. Shalev Hulio, founder and CEO of the NSO Group, said in an interview in March.

The senior researcher of the Citizen Lab is not surprised that civil servants were also targeted: "It is an open secret that many technologies developed for law enforcement investigations are used for state and political espionage," he told Reuters. According to one Report of the online magazine Arstechnica Facebook has permanently deleted the accounts of NSO employees. Facebook wanted to take no position on request of Golem.de.