A fierce legal battle between Facebook and Israeli cyber security firm NSO ramped up this week with the latter telling a California court that the social media giant lied about providing material related to its lawsuit against the high-tech firm.
Facebook is suing NSO for allegedly spying on smartphone users via its massively popular WhatsApp messaging and chat application. It is seeking to have the Israeli company barred from accessing or attempting to access WhatsApp and Facebook's services and is seeking unspecified damages.
Last week, the courts awarded Facebook a default victory when NSO representatives failed to show up. But NSO is now arguing that Facebook broke international law regarding cross-border lawsuits and failed to make proper effort to provide the firm with notice of the suit or give it enough opportunity to respond, despite claiming to have done so.
"As NSO Group has not been formally served, this default notice will not stand," a spokesman for the company said.
According to Facebook, however, it sent emails, regular post, and even managed to place the documents into the hands of the wife of Amit Lavie, one of NSO's co-founders.
More on this topic:
∙ NSO founder Shalev Hulio talks to Ynet
WhatsApp has accused NSO of helping government spies break into the phones of about 1,400 users in a hacking spree targeting diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials across the world.
“NSO Group has conducted cyber-attacks against human rights activists, journalists, and diplomats," Facebook said in a statement.
"We will continue to take appropriate action to defend our users and we look forward to participating in open court to document how NSO threatens the safety and security of users and needs to be held accountable," the statement said.
NSO "targeted at least 100 human-rights defenders, journalists and other members of civil society across the world," the head of WhatsApp, Will Cathart, wrote in an October 2019 op-ed published by The Washington Post.
WhatsApp is used by some 1.5 billion people monthly and has often touted a high level of security, including end-to-end encrypted messages that cannot be deciphered by WhatsApp or other third parties.
"This is the first time that an encrypted messaging provider is taking legal action against a private entity that has carried out this type of attack against its users," WhatsApp said.
NSO's phone hacking software has already been implicated in a series of human rights abuses across Latin America and the Middle East, including a sprawling espionage scandal in Panama and an attempt to spy on an employee of the London-based rights group Amnesty International.
NSO came under particularly harsh scrutiny over the allegation that its spyware played a role in the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul a little over a year ago.
Khashoggi's friend Omar Abdulaziz is one of seven activists and journalists who have taken the spyware firm to court in Israel and Cyprus over allegations that their phones were compromised using NSO technology.
Amnesty has also filed a lawsuit, demanding that the Defense Ministry revoke NSO's export license to "stop it profiting from state-sponsored repression."
NSO has long argued that its software is used to fight terrorism and has tried to clean up its image after it was bought by London-based private equity firm Novalpina Capital earlier this year.
In August, NSO co-founder Shalev Hulio appeared on "60 Minutes" and boasted his spyware had saved "tens of thousands of people." He provided no details.
NSO has also brought on a series of high-profile advisers, including former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge and Juliette Kayyem, a senior lecturer in international security at Harvard University. Last month, NSO announced it would begin abiding by United Nations guidelines on human rights abuses.