WhatsApp sues Israeli firm over smartphone hacking claims

By Yana Berman

Facebook-owned messenger service accuses NSO Group of sending malware to 1,400 phones

WhatsApp, the messenger service owned by Facebook, has filed a lawsuit in the US against Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, accusing it of spying on its users.

According to the lawsuit filed in California, WhatsApp believes that NSO Group developed a malware and created various accounts in the messenger service to spread it via video calls. To receive the virus, the user did not even have to answer the call as the malware was spread automatically.

WhatsApp insists that in April and May the company purportedly sent the malicious code to 1,400 phones in order to spy on them.

The messenger service also claims that users affected by the alleged attack included human rights activists, journalists, lawyers and academics located in different countries, including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico.

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In an official statement WhatsApp claims that the attack targeting civil society is "an unmistakable pattern of abuse”. The company is seeking to ban NSO from further use of its services.

NSO denies the allegations. In a comment to the BBC the company revealed it would fight all the claims made by WhatsApp. NSO insists that its only purpose is to provide technology to licensed government agencies.

According to the official release, this is the first time that WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit against a private company to protect its users.

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