WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart is in trouble with the NSO Group, which is not responsible for the surveillance and hacking of iPhones and other devices of journalists and activists.
Following the discovery that the NSO Group was using Pegasus spyware to monitor journalists, activists, and high-level world leaders, NSO took steps to silence the story. On July 23, NSO CEO Shalev Hulio claimed that he could not control what governments ultimately did with his tools, which were allegedly intended to catch serious criminals and terrorists.
But nevertheless, talking to the guardianWhatsApp boss Will Cathcart suggested that the leaked list of more than 50,000 phone numbers believed to be persons of interest to NSO customers may be genuine. Cathcart also believes that it coincides with WhatsApp’s own research in 2019, apparently showing that it has been going on for several years.
“The reports match what we saw in the attack we defeated two years ago, it is very consistent with what we spoke out loud then,” according to Cathcart.
The comment referred to WhatsApp’s 2019 investigation into attacks against its own systems and users, apparently with Pegasus. Along with “senior government officials”, the targets at the time included journalists and human rights activists, who Cathcart believes “need not be under surveillance in any way, shape or form.”
Cathcart’s comments run counter to claims by NSO Group CEO Hulio that non-criminals had “nothing to fear” with the tool.
The WhatsApp boss also questioned NSO’s insistence that the list was “exaggerated,” as the 2019 WhatsApp attack saw some 1,400 users affected over a two-week period. “That tells us that over a longer period of time, over a period of time of several years, the number of people attacked is very high,” said Cathcart.
According to court documents seen by The Washington Post On WhatsApp’s 2019 lawsuit against NSO Group over the matter, NSO said it should be granted “sovereign immunity” as its clients were vetted government clients and that it could not be sued for the actions of its clients.
NSO insisted it had no control over targeting, but exhibits suggested otherwise. An internal NSO exhibit said “The company will provide end-user assistance in operating, managing and configuring the system, as well as resolving any technical software issues.”
Another exhibit mentions that customers only need to enter the target’s phone number, and the rest “is done automatically by the system, which in most cases has an agent installed on the target device.”
A judge in the still-ongoing lawsuit ruled that NSO retained some control, allowing the lawsuit to continue. NSO appealed in April 2021 to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. A decision has not yet been issued.
The 2019 attack was not the first time that Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has dealt with NSO Group. In 2017, the social network asked about the Pegasus purchase to get more data on iOS user activity, but NSO at the time refused, citing that it only sells products to a “sovereign government or government agency.”
Cathcart has asked Apple to adjust its approach to malware, as the iPhone discovery was successfully infiltrated numerous times by Pegasus.
“I hope Apple starts taking that approach too. Speak up, join in. It’s not enough to say, most of our users don’t need to worry about this. It’s not enough to say oh, this is just thousands or tens of.” Thousands of victims. “.
“If this is affecting journalists around the world, this is affecting human rights defenders around the world, that affects us all,” continued Cathcart. “And if someone’s phone is not protected, that means everyone’s phone is not secure.”
Apple condemned the July 19 attacks, insisting that “we continue to work tirelessly to defend all of our customers, and we are constantly adding new protections for their devices and data.”
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