San Francisco: WhatsApp on Tuesday sued Israeli technology firm NSO Group, accusing it of using the Facebook-owned messaging service to conduct cyberespionage on journalists, human rights activists and others.
The suit filed in a California federal court contended that NSO Group tried to infect approximately 1,400 “target devices” with malicious software to steal valuable information from those using the messaging app.
WhatsApp head Will Cathcart said the lawsuit was filed after an investigation showed the Israeli firm’s role the cyberattack, despite its denials.
“NSO Group claims they responsibly serve governments, but we found more than 100 human rights defenders and journalists targeted in an attack last May. This abuse must be stopped,” Cathcart said on Twitter.
The lawsuit said the software developed by NSO known as Pegasus was designed to be remotely installed to hijack devices using the Android, iOS, and BlackBerry operating systems.
The complaint said the attackers “reverse-engineered the WhatsApp app and developed a program to enable them to emulate legitimate WhatsApp network traffic in order to transmit malicious code” to take over the devices.
“While their attack was highly sophisticated, their attempts to cover their tracks were not entirely successful,” Cathcart said in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, noting that the investigation found internet-hosting services and accounts associated with NSO.
The suit calls on court to order NSO Group to stop any such attacks and asks for unspecified damages.