Monday, May 20, 2019
Last week WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, reported a security breach. Reuters reported that the company indicated that the spyware had signs of coming from a government who was using spyware coming from a private company. WhatsApp is encrypted end to end preventing third-party access. Disturbingly What's App reported that select human rights groups were the likely targets of the breach.
What's App informed users that it believed the spyware was probably developed by an Israeli company. The US Department of Justice was informed of the breach so they could assist the investigation.
As it turns out a London-based human rights lawyer is suing to stop the use of the very software that was used to hack him. The spyware permitted access to his phone, including photos, messages, and the operating system. ABC News reported that the unnamed lawyer had noticed suspicious activity on his phone. The lawyer is suing regarding the use of the software Pegasus developed by NSO Group, the Israeli company. Reportedly the software is being sold to regimes who use it to spy on dissidents, human rights activists as well as journalists.
The lawyer whose phone was hacked is a member of the legal team representing "Omar Abdulaziz against NSO, and that hack [of his WhatsApp messages] was linked to the Khashoggi case. This same technology was used to spy on the communication between Omar Abdulaziz and Jamal Khashoggi, the lawyer said."
While European regulators investigate the breach, the use of the spyware is a message to all engaged in human rights work. Governments on every continent are wary of, if not hostile to human rights advocates. If you or your organization notice unusual activity on your phone or other devices, it might be worth a call to theUniversity of Toronto based "Citizens Lab" that has made prior investigations into the use of Pegasus software. In the meantime, WhatsApp cautions that users should download the latest version of WhatsApp to maximize protection from hackers.