WhatsApp confirms Indian activists and journalists were hacked as NSO claims it’s 'contractually prohibited'

WhatsApp confirms Indian activists and journalists were hacked as NSO claims it’s 'contractually prohibited'
WhatsApp confirms that NSO Group's hack in May affected at least two dozen activitists and journalists in IndiaUnsplash

  • WhatsApp confirms that at least two dozen Indian activists and journalists were hacked.
  • NSO Group claims that targeting a specific group of people is ‘contractually prohibited’.
  • NSO Group also claims that their software aims to align itself with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Journalists and activists using WhatsApp were left vulnerable when the NSO Group — an Israeli hacker collective — found a way to sneak past the messaging service’s encryption and install spyware on phones.

According to WhatsApp, at least two dozen academicians, lawyers, activists and journalists in India were among the 1,400 users that were allegedly hacked.

NSO Group was allegedly able to conduct surveillance over the affected users by planting malware by dropping a simple missed call on WhatsApp.
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“It targeted at least 100 human rights defenders, journalists and other members of civil society across the world,” wrote Will Cathart, the head of WhatsApp, in an editorial piece for The Washington Post.

The malware allowed NSO to control the phones remotely. The device’s microphones and cameras could be used to collect data and spy on the users.

Facebook has already filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group and is looking to claim an unspecified amount in damages. According to the social networking giant, the affected phones were under surveillance between April 29 to May 10.

When the hack was originally brought to light in May, the Indian government called it an issue of ‘national cybersecurity’ — and they may have been right.

NSO Group denies allegations

NSO Group, on the other hand, has stated that its not looking to target any specific group of people. "Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years," it said.

They assert that using their software for anything other than preventing crime and terrorist activities is ‘contractually prohibited’.

"This technology is rooted in the protection of human rights – including the right to life, security and bodily integrity – and that's why we have sought alignment with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to make sure our products are respecting all fundamental human rights," claims NSO.

See also:
Here’s why Facebook is suing the NSO Group over the WhatsApp hack

WhatsApp hack: Indian government calls it an issue of 'national cybersecurity'

Indian Army fears that foreign intelligence may be using WhatsApp to profile its officers