WhatsApp targeted

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https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-48262681

WhatsApp discovers 'targeted' surveillance attack
Dave Lee North America technology reporter

Hackers were able to remotely install surveillance software on phones and other devices using a major vulnerability in messaging app WhatsApp, it has been confirmed.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, said the attack targeted a "select number" of users and was orchestrated by "an advanced cyber-actor".

A fix was rolled out on Friday.

On Monday, WhatsApp urged all of its 1.5 billion users to update their apps as an added precaution.

The surveillance software involved was developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Facebook first discovered the flaw in WhatsApp earlier in May.

WhatsApp promotes itself as a "secure" communications app because messages are end-to-end encrypted, meaning they should only be displayed in a legible form on the sender or recipient's device.

However, the surveillance software would have let an attacker read the messages on the target's device.

Some users of the app have questioned why the app store notes associated with the latest update are not explicit about the fix....

How was the security flaw used?
It involved attackers using WhatsApp's voice calling function to ring a target's device.

Even if the call was not picked up, the surveillance software could be installed. According to the FT report, the call would often disappear from the device's call log.

WhatsApp told the BBC its security team was the first to identify the flaw. It shared that information with human rights groups, selected security vendors and the US Department of Justice earlier this month.

"The attack has all the hallmarks of a private company reportedly that works with governments to deliver spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems,” the company said on Monday in a briefing document note for journalists...

Who has been targeted?
WhatsApp said it was too early to know how many users had been affected by the vulnerability, although it added that suspected attacks were highly-targeted.

According to the New York Times, one of the people targeted was a London-based lawyer involved in a lawsuit against the NSO Group.

Amnesty International, which said it had been targeted by tools created by the NSO Group in the past, said this attack was one human rights groups had long feared was possible.

"They're able to infect your phone without you actually taking an action," said Danna Ingleton, deputy programme director for Amnesty Tech. She said there was mounting evidence that the tools were being used by regimes to keep prominent activists and journalists under surveillance.

"There needs to be some accountability for this, it can't just continue to be a wild west, secretive industry."

On Tuesday, a Tel Aviv court will hear a petition led by Amnesty International that calls for Israel's Ministry of Defence to revoke the NSO Group's licence to export its products....
 
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