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

The WhatsApp messaging application is seen on a phone screenReuters

  • WhatsApp, the mobile messaging app, whats recently hit by spyware that was being spread through WhatsApp calling.
  • The exact number of people affected is unknown.
  • The Indian government wants to WhatsApp to clarify what it has does to address the situation because the spyware attack and other vulnerabilities like it are an issue of 'national cybersecurity'

WhatsApp, Facebook’s popular messaging mobile app, was recently hit by spyware that could spread with a single phone call.

The company says that only a ‘relatively small amount of people’ were affected by hack, globally. But, Indian users who form the WhatsApp’s largest user base accounting for 200 million of its 1.5 billion users — and the Indian government wants answers.

Government officials who spoke to ETtech believe that this hack is no mere one-time incident, but it entails a larger issue of cybersecurity .

This (the spyware attack) stokes the larger issue of national cybersecurity and how to regulate this sphere.

Indian government official told ETtech


The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has written to WhatsApp seeking information like — how many Indian users were affected, exact details of the vulnerability and measures taken to address the issue.

What’s the fuss?

Last week, The Financial Times reported that spyware was making it way through WhatsApp users; bugging devices, taking over its camera, microphone, messages and even the keyboard.

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption which protects messages is rendered useless, as the spyware records a device’s keystrokes.

And, it’s not restricted to a single operating system — Google Android, Apple iOS and Microsoft — everyone is equally vulnerable.

According to the report, the spyware was allegedly developed by Israel's NSO Group — the same organisation responsible for the Pegasus software attack on human rights activists in the past.

The group is now facing a lawsuit from Amnesty International and partners to look into the matter and their involvement in it.

WhatsApp versus the Indian Government

WhatsApp doesn’t have the best relationship with the Indian government when it comes to tracking incidents.

Last year, when lynchings were reported in multiple cities after a kidnapping video went viral on the platform, the Indian government asked WhatsApp to track the video to its original sender.

WhatsApp denied the request saying that would implement safeguards to make sure such incidents do not happen again. But, their end-to-end encryption used to keep messages private can’t be broken — not even to find the perpetrator as it would violate their promise of privacy, made to users.

See also:
This is how attackers were able to spread spyware through WhatsApp with just a phone call

There's no way to know for sure whether your smartphone was infected by the WhatsApp attack — but here are some signs you should look out for

Meet the shadowy security firm from Israel whose technology is at the heart of the massive WhatsApp hack
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