Photo: Shutterstock
WhatsApp hacked with Israeli software
Photo: Shutterstock

WhatsApp hacked with Israeli software to spy on U.S.-allied countries, say sources

Sources familiar with Facebook-owned software giant's internal investigation claim most of the victims were high-profile government and military officials in at least 20 countries; NSO Group, Israeli hacking tool developer, says it sells spyware only to government customers

Senior government officials in multiple U.S.-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with Israeli hacking software that used Facebook Inc's WhatsApp to take over users' phones, according to people familiar with the messaging company's investigation.



Sources familiar with WhatsApp's internal investigation into the breach said a significant portion of the known victims are high-profile government and military officials spread across at least 20 countries on five continents.


WhatsApp hacked with Israeli software (Photo: Shutterstock)
WhatsApp hacked with Israeli software (Photo: Shutterstock)


The hacking of a wider group of top government officials' smartphones than previously reported suggests the WhatsApp cyber intrusion could have broad political and diplomatic consequences.


WhatsApp filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Israeli hacking tool developer NSO Group. The Facebook-owned software giant alleges that NSO Group built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users.


While it is not clear who used the software to hack officials' phones, NSO says it sells its spyware exclusively to government customers.


Some victims are in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India, said people familiar with the investigation.


The revelation comes as more than a dozen Indian journalists and human rights activists said on Thursday they were also targeted.


NSO did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Previously it has denied any wrongdoing, saying its products are only meant to help governments catch terrorists and criminals.


NSO Group (צילום: אוראל כהן)
NSO Group (צילום: אוראל כהן)


Over the last several years, cybersecurity researchers have found NSO products used against a wide range of targets, including protesters in countries under authoritarian rule. The use of these tools to target high-profile politicians, however, is less understood.


An independent research group working with WhatsApp, named CitizenLab, said at least 100 of the victims are journalists and dissidents, not criminals.


WhatsApp has said it sent warning notifications to affected users earlier this week.


It is an open secret that many technologies branded for law enforcement investigations are used for state-on-state and political espionage, said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher with CitizenLab.


WhatsApp did not identify the clients of NSO Group, who ultimately chose the targets.


פרסום ראשון: 10.31.19, 18:51
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