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29 Oct 2019

Mehul Srivastava, Financial Times

WhatsApp attack led to targeting of 100 journalists & dissidents [subscription only]

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At least 100 journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents had their smartphones attacked by spyware that exploited a vulnerability in WhatsApp, according to the Facebookowned messaging service... Their phones were targeted through WhatsApp’s call function by customers of the Israelbased NSO Group, which makes Pegasus, a spyware program. Once installed, Pegasus is designed to take over all of a phone’s functions... “There is an unaccountable wild west of this kind of spyware and intrusion technology,” said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, which tracks digital surveillance. “If you equip repressive governments with the power to snoop like this it is almost a foregone conclusion that they will abuse this technology.”

... Since a leveraged buyout in February backed by London-based Novalpina Capital that valued NSO at $1bn, the company has rejected criticism that its clients abuse its software... “The record of NSO Group is troubling,” Mr Kaye [the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression] told the FT. “Making matters worse, its activities are opaque, and subject to minimal, if any, government constraints. My hope is that allegations like these encourage governments to take strong regulatory action.”