WhatsApp files lawsuit against Israeli firm for hacking into activists' phones

In an unprecedented move, WhatsApp has sued NSO Group, an Israeli company for hacking the phones of journalists, lawyers, activists among others

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A man poses with a smartphone in front of displayed Whatsapp logo in this illustration September 14, 2017 Dado Ruvic/YouTube

WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, which is an Israeli surveillance company and accused them of cyber attacks for hacking into the phones of activists, lawyers, journalists, religious scholars and academics.

In the lawsuit, WhatsApp claimed that NSO Group is responsible for a series of highly sophisticated cyber attacks which violates American law and called it an "unmistakable pattern of abuse".

The social media giant stated that the NSO Group targeted 1,400 users in 20 different countries during a 14-day period from the end of April to mid of May. Apart from the 1,400 users, It is still unclear how many more of WhatsApp's 1.5 billion users are affected.

The lawsuit was filed in a California court and the company has demanded a permanent injunction to block NSO from attempting to access WhatsApp computer systems and its parent company, Facebook. In the complaint, WhatsApp stated that NSO has made "unlawful access and use of WhatsApp computers, several of which are located in California".

WhatsApp asked the court to rule that NSO violated US federal law and California state law, as it indulged in computer fraud, breached their contracts with WhatsApp and stated that it "wrongfully trespassed" on Facebook's property.

A WhatsApp spokesman released a statement saying, "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. In our complaint, we explain how NSO carried out this attack, including acknowledgement from an NSO employee that our steps to re-mediate the attack were effective."

''There must be strong legal oversight of cyber-weapons like the one used in this attack to ensure they are not used to violate individual rights and freedoms people deserve wherever they are in the world. Human rights groups have documented a disturbing trend that such tools have been used to attack journalists and human rights defenders."

NSO Group is also accused of targeting Omar Abdulaziz, who is a close associate of the journalist from the Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in 2018.