WhatsApp urges users to upgrade app after report of spyware attack

WhatsApp vulnerability allowed government-grade spyware to be installed on phones

The company exploited a vulnerability by Whatsapp that allowed third party users to remotely install spyware on targeted phones.

The app which is owned by Facebook, said the hack targeted a "select number of users".

A vulnerability in Facebook's WhatsApp messaging app made it possible for attackers to spread surveillance software to mobile devices through a phone call.

The spyware was developed by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group, the Financial Times reported.

The spokesperson did not mention NSO in a statement on the flaw but said the attack had "all the hallmarks of a private company that has been known to work with governments to deliver spyware that has the ability to take over mobile phone operating systems". The group is famous for its software dubbed "Pegasus" which can hack smartphones and activate their microphones and cameras, collect location information and send out emails and texts.

They also immediately contacted Citizen Lab and human rights groups as well as the relevant United States authorities to inform them of the hack.

Based in Israel, it says it develops technologies that governments and law enforcement agencies can use to track and intercept terror activity, break up organized crime operations, and even search for missing persons.

The vulnerability affected users of WhatsApp on all platforms, meaning you need to update your app immediately if you are still using an older version of WhatsApp.

Ahmed Zidan, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said reporters, attorneys, activists and human rights defenders were the likeliest targets for hackers.

The apparent attempt to breach the lawyer's phone was not successful, Scott-Railton said, as WhatsApp had patched the vulnerability by Sunday. WhatsApp began rolling out a fix on Friday, 10 May and the updated version of WhatsApp was issued on Monday.

"If you consider how widely used WhatsApp is, by journalists, confidential sources, activists, lawyers, businesses and everyday citizens-this attack is extremely concerning", Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer at the software company Carbon Black, said. He said WhatsApp also provided information to USA law enforcement officials to assist in their investigations.

"We investigate any credible allegations of misuse and if necessary, we take action, including shutting down the system", the group said in a statement to The Straits Times.

Mr James Tan, a forensic consultant with Infinity Forensics, said: "As now only a handful of people know how to execute the spyware, users should not worry too much if their app is updated". According to some reports, the attack could have been used to target humans rights campaigners.

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