WhatsApp is suing an Israeli surveillance firm, NSO Group, for allegedly aiding government spies to hack into about 1,400 phones across 4 continents.
Targets of the hacking spree included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists, and senior government officials.
The Facebook-owned company in a lawsuit filed in a Federal Court in San Francisco accused NSO of aiding hacking in 20 countries which included the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and Bahrain.
WhatsApp revealed that 100 civil society members had been targets, calling it “an unmistakable pattern of abuse”.
NSO reacted to the allegations, denying their involvement and stated that its sole purpose was to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies and to help them combat terrorism and crime.
WhatsApp alleged that the attack exploited its video calling system in order to send malware to the mobile devices of a number of users. The malware would grant NSO’s clients (said to be governments and intelligence organizations) access to secretly spy on phone owners, leaving their digital lives open to scrutiny.
NSO’s phone hacking software has already been implicated in a series of human rights abuses across Latin America and the Middle East and had come under intense scrutiny over the allegation that its spyware had played a role in the death of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.