Ground Report | New Delhi: Govt officials world over; Government officials from around the world were also among 1,400 WhatsApp users who were attacked with Pegasus spyware from Israel’s NNO Group in the year 2019. This was disclosed by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart in an interview with The Guardian.
Along with this, Cathcart also said that they see similarities in the reporting of attacks against WhatsApp users in 2019 and Pegasus Project based on leaked data. In the year 2019, the company under Facebook has sued NSO Group for the Pegasus attack on WhatsApp users.
According to an investigation by The Wire and 16 media associates, a leaked list of thousands of telephone numbers of such people interested in clients of several governments from Israel’s surveillance technology company NSO included ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the judiciary. Includes people involved, businessmen, government officials, rights activists, etc.
A small portion of these phone numbers accessed by French media non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International were subjected to forensic examination by The Wire and several international media organizations working under the Pegasus project, in which 37 phones were tested for the deadly disease.
Two years ago, when WhatsApp announced an attempted attack on its users with the NSO malware, it said that of the 1,400 targets targeted, nearly 100 were from civil society, including journalists, human rights defenders and activists. (Govt officials world over)
The attack on users was caused by a security flaw in the messaging app, which was later corrected. The CEO of WhatsApp said, ‘The first thing I would say is that this reporting matches the attack that we defeated two years ago. And that completely justifies what we were saying.
He further said, ‘You know that the attack attempt we saw was NSO Group trying to target people’s phones through our service. It was clearly an attempt to attack. And on that list you know we saw journalists, human rights defenders, government officials and others from all over the world.
The leaks included the phone numbers of thousands of people who are believed to have been selected as candidates for possible surveillance by NSO’s clients, including the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, government ministers, diplomats, activists, journalists. As were the heads of state. Human rights defenders, and lawyers.
This includes some people whose phones showed infections or traces of NSO’s Pegasus spyware, according to a sample test of equipment conducted by Amnesty International’s security laboratory. (Govt officials world over)
Cathcart said in an interview with the Guardian, “The reporting matches the attack we beat two years ago, it’s pretty loudly consistent about that time.” In addition to “senior government officials”, WhatsApp found that journalists and human rights activists were targeted in attacks against its users in 2019. He added that there was “no business in any way, shape or form” monitoring multiple targets in the WhatsApp case.
“This should be a wake-up call for safety on the Internet… Mobile phones are either safe for all or they are not safe for all.” When NSO’s Pegasus spyware infects a phone, government customers using it can gain access to a person’s phone conversations, messages, photos and location, as well as portable listeners by manipulating the phone’s recorder. Equipment can be changed.
The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been identified as people of interest by NSO’s customers since 2016. The presence of a number on the leaked list that was accessed by the Pegasus Project does not necessarily mean that it was subject to an attempted or successful hack. NSO said that Macron was not a “target” of any of its customers, which means the company denies that its phones had any attempted or successful Pegasus transitions.
NSO has also stated that the data has “no relevance” to the company, and dismissed the reporting by the Pegasus project as “full of misconceptions and unconfirmed theories”. It denied that the leaked data represented those targeted for surveillance by Pegasus Software. NSO has exaggerated the number to 50,000, saying it is too large to represent the individuals targeted by Pegasus.