In a recent report by The Guardian, an Israeli spyware owned by the spyware company NSO was used to allegedly target phones of at least two dozen Pakistani government officials’ WhatsApp earlier this year.
According to the report, these officials included many Pakistani senior defence and intelligence officials whose data could have been compromised.
This was discovered when there was an analysis of about 1400 people whose phones were the focus of hacking attempt within a two week period earlier this year.
The Israeli spyware used to allegedly target Pakistani offiical’s phones is an exploit that used a vulnerability in the WhatsApp software to potentially get access to the messages and data on the phones being targeted by the malware user.
WhatsApp when alerted about what happened back in May filed a lawsuit against NSO in October for “unauthorized access and abuse of its services.”
NSO however says the claim isn’t true and that it’s technology is only used for investigations related to criminals, terrorists and paedophiles by law enforcement agencies.
John Scott-Railton, who is a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab which is a research group at the University of Toronto that has worked with WhatsApp to help identify such hacks, said about this attack:
This kind of spyware is marketed as designed for criminal investigations. But the open secret is that it also winds up being used for political surveillance and government-on-government spying,
Spyware companies are clearly contributing to the proliferation of state-on-state technological espionage. No government seems particularly immune. This is probably further stretching the patience of governments around the world with this industry,
121 WhatsApp users in India were also targeted this year using the spyware and Narendra Modi’s government is now facing questions by human rights activists about whether the government has bought this NSO technology.
A supreme court inquiry was requested in the matter by the Indian National Congress after this was discovered. Some people that were targeted included journalists, activists and human rights lawyers.
Even the Pakistani government is now taking actions to address the matter. A WhatsApp alternative is being developed by the government that would be used for sensitive and classified data according to Dr. Arslan Khalid, who is a digital issues adviser to the Prime Minister.
Ministry of Information and Technology has advised government officials to stop using WhatsApp for sensitive matters and to replace smartphones purchases before May of 2019.