Facebook Sues Israeli Company for Using WhatsApp to Spread Malware

Facebook is suing the NSO Group, an Israeli cybersecurity firm, for using WhatsApp to spread spyware. According to Facebook’s claims, the company spread spyware to over 1400 devices in 20 countries over the span of two months (April and May).

The social media giant filed a complaint on Tuesday, maintaining that the NSO group spread the malware to target journalists, human rights activists, senior government officials, diplomats, and other parties.

According to the lawsuit, the attacks were focused on devices in the UAE, Bahrain, and Mexico. Facebook said that the malware is unable to break WhatsApp’s encryption but ended up infecting the target’s smartphone which gave the NSO access to messages after they were decrypted.

As a second defendant of the case, Facebook has named QCyber, an NSO group affiliate. According to Facebook, the Israeli company used Pegasus, its flagship software, to access messages sent via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, Skype, Telegram and WeChat.

In a statement to Engadget, the NSO Group has denied any associations with the attacks. The organization states,

In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them. The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years. We consider any other use of our products than to prevent serious crime and terrorism a misuse, which is contractually prohibited. We take action if we detect any misuse. This technology is rooted in the protection of human rights — including the right to life, security and bodily integrity.

On the other hand, WhatsApp’s head Will Cathcart, in a piece published by Washington Post, said,

Mobile phones provide us with great utility but turned against us they can reveal our locations and our private messages and record sensitive conversations we have with others. We learned that the attackers used servers and Internet-hosting services that were previously associated with NS. In addition, as our complaint notes, we have tied certain WhatsApp accounts used during the attacks back to NSO. While their attack was highly sophisticated, their attempts to cover their tracks were not entirely successful.

In any case, WhatsApp is not the safest messaging app out there, so use it at your own risk and avoid sharing sensitive information on it.