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NSO spyware tools allegely used to break into cellphones of human rights activists through WhatsApp security flaws

Author: Nicole Perlroth & Ronen Bergman, New York Times, Published on: 14 May 2019

NSO, an Israeli firm accused of supplying tools for spying on human-rights activists and journalists now faces claims that its technology can use a security hole in WhatsApp, the messaging app used by 1.5 billion people, to break into the digital communications of iPhone and Android phone users.

“WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices,” the Facebook-owned company said in a statement.

The WhatsApp hole was used to target a London lawyer who has been involved in lawsuits that accuse NSO Group of providing tools to hack the phones of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident in Canada; a Qatari citizen; and a group of Mexican journalists and activists, the researchers said. The researchers believe the list of targets could be much longer.

The NSO Group said in a statement on Monday that its spyware was strictly licensed to government agencies and that it would investigate any “credible allegations of misuse.” The company said it would not be involved in identifying a target for its technology, including the lawyer at the center of the latest accusations.

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