How To Hack Into Whatsapp

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A vulnerability in messaging app WhatsApp allowed attackers to install commercial Israeli spyware on phones, the company and a spyware technology distributor said.

How To Hack Into Whatsapp

WhatsApp, which is used by 1.5 billion people worldwide, discovered in early May that attackers could install surveillance software on iPhones and Android phones by calling targets using the app’s phone call feature.

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The malicious code, developed by the secretive Israeli company NSO Group, can be transmitted even when users don’t answer their phones and calls disappear from call logs, said a spyware distributor who recently detailed the WhatsApp hack.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp said it was too early in its own investigation into the vulnerability to estimate how many phones were targeted with the method, according to a person familiar with the issue.

Late on Sunday, as WhatsApp engineers scrambled to close the breach, the phone of a UK-based human rights lawyer was hacked using the same method.

Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said they believe Sunday’s spyware attack is related to the same vulnerability that WhatsApp is trying to patch.

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NSO’s flagship product is Pegasus, a program that activates a phone’s microphone and camera, tracks emails and messages, and collects location data.

The NSO advertises its products to intelligence agencies in the Middle East and the West, and Pegasus claims governments intend to fight terrorism and crime. NSO was recently valued at $1 billion in a leveraged buyout involving British private equity fund Novalpina Capital.

In the past, human rights activists in the Middle East received text messages via WhatsApp containing links to download Pegasus on their phones.

WhatsApp said engineering teams worked around the clock in San Francisco and London to fix the vulnerability. WhatsApp said it rolled out a fix on its servers on Friday last week. All users should update to the latest version of WhatsApp, which was released on Monday, the company said.

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“This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company working with governments to deliver spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems,” the company said. “We have informed various human rights organizations to share what information we can and we are working with them to inform civil society.”

WhatsApp disclosed the problem to the US Department of Justice last week, according to a person familiar with the matter. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

NSO said it carefully screened customers and investigated any abuse. When asked about the WhatsApp attack, the NSO said it was investigating the issue.

“Under no circumstances will NSO engage in the operation or identification of targets with its technology, which is managed solely by intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the company said. “The NSO does not and cannot use its technology in its own right to attack any person or organisation, including this person [the UK solicitor].”

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A UK lawyer, who declined to be named, has helped a group of Mexican journalists, government critics and Saudi dissidents living in Canada sue NSO in Israel, claiming the company shares responsibility for any misuse of its software by part of the customers.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab, said the attack failed. “We had a strong suspicion that the person’s phone was being hacked, so we looked into the suspected hack and confirmed that it did not lead to an infection,” Scott-Railton said. “We believe that the measures implemented by WhatsApp in recent days will prevent the attacks from succeeding.”

Other lawyers working on the cases have been contacted by people posing as potential clients or donors, who then try to get information about ongoing lawsuits, the Associated Press reported in February.

“It’s upsetting, but not surprising, that my team is being attacked for the technology we’re concerned about in our lawsuits,” said Alaa Mahajneh, a Jerusalem-based lawyer handling lawsuits from Mexicans and Saudis. “This desperate response to stop our work and silence us shows how urgent the demands are, because we can see that the abuses continue.”

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On Tuesday, NSO will face a legal challenge over its ability to export software, which is controlled by Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Amnesty International, which has identified an attempt to hack the phone of one of its researchers, is supporting Israeli citizens and civil rights groups to ask the Ministry of Defense to revoke the NSO’s export license in Tel Aviv.

“NSO Group sells its products to governments known for serious human rights abuses, giving them tools to track activists and critics. The attack on Amnesty International is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Donna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Technology .

“Israel’s Ministry of Defense has ignored evidence linking the NSO Group to attacks on human rights defenders. While products like Pegasus are sold without proper regulation and oversight, the rights and safety of Amnesty International staff and other activists, journalists and dissidents are in danger Above the alleged hack Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

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More than a dozen pro-democracy activists, journalists and academics have spoken out after WhatsApp privately warned them they were victims of a cyber attack designed to secretly infiltrate their mobile phones.

The individuals received warnings that they were among more than 100 human rights activists whose phones were believed to have been hacked with malware sold by NSO Group, an Israeli cyber weapons company.

WhatsApp launched an unprecedented lawsuit against the surveillance company earlier this week, alleging that it discovered more than 1,400 of its users had been targeted by NSO technology over a two-week period in May.

The suit, filed in a California court, called the alleged attacks an “unprecedented pattern of abuse” that violates US law.

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Two Moroccan pro-democracy activists who received WhatsApp’s warnings said any use of the sophisticated malware, known as Pegasus, against them would be a serious violation of their rights.

“I am a big supporter of democratization in the Middle East in general and in Morocco in particular,” said Aboubakar Jamai, an activist and former journalist living in France. “The Moroccan regime is certainly less evil than the Syrian regime, but it is an authoritarian regime that nevertheless uses some despicable methods against its opponents.”

Jamai, who received international recognition for his groundbreaking work as a publisher who faced prison terms for his journalism, said he is considering his own separate legal action against NSO and a possible class action lawsuit with other alleged victims.

Abdellatif El Hamamouchi, a 22-year-old human rights activist from Rabat who campaigned for justice for jailed newspaper editor Tawfiq Boucherin, was also given a warning.

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Hamamouchi said: “I already strongly believed that the Moroccan authorities were watching me, but I was surprised that these attacks came from abroad and involved an Israeli company. The action taken by WhatsApp against NSO is something positive.”

“I have not heard from the NSO since I was informed of this, but I find any explanation they offer useless.”

At least six Rwandan dissidents have also come forward with claims of being attacked by Pegasus, according to interviews with the Financial Times.

Among them is Faustin Rukundo, a British citizen who is a member of a Rwandan opposition group and lives in exile and in fear of the Rwandan security services.

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In India, 17 people, including human rights activists, academics and journalists, have been targeted by spyware on WhatsApp, Scroll.in has confirmed.

NSO WhatsApp said it would contest the lawsuit “on the best possible terms,” ​​but declined to comment further. He insisted he could not comment on his customers or the people who received WhatsApp alerts.

The company said it investigated all serious allegations against it and recently adopted a new human rights policy.

“NSO’s sole purpose is to provide licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies with technology to help combat terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped save thousands of lives over the past few years,” the company said. said

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“We consider any use of our products to be misuse, except to prevent serious crime and terrorism, which is prohibited by contract. We will take action if any misuse is detected.

However, the NSO has faced a barrage of criticism due to its misuse of technology. It is widely reported to have sold its spyware to authoritarian regimes, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Human rights activists and lawyers aren’t the only intended victims of the unidentified cyberattack, WhatsApp’s lawsuit says.

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