What’s Going on With WhatsApp

Risking privacy for security

Earlier this year, WhatsApp users were under surveillance.  Almost 1,500 people in 20 countries who downloaded the app were affected.  In response to NSO Group previously installing malware on the cellular devices of the users, the communication app company, WhatsApp has taken legal action.  The lawsuit cites NSO Group as violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  The Israel-based company targeted known journalists, human rights activists, female leaders, and their families, under the guise of protecting citizens and preventing crime and terrorism.  The individuals who were placed under surveillance were not named in the lawsuit.

The WhatsApp mishap was apparently resolved through strengthened security in May 2019, right after NSO Group’s presence was discovered.  NSO Group is a privately held and operated company, known for developing products that aid in the monitoring of smartphones.  The company’s cyber intelligence software is geared toward assisting government agencies in the fight against national and international terrorism. There is a suspicious connection between NSO Group and the killing of a journalist, however, NSO Group denies any involvement or correlation.  In this recent lawsuit, WhatsApp is directly blaming NSO Group for tapping into the private conversations of the app’s users and claiming it is a violation of human and civil rights.

While it is the duty of some government agencies to watch for potential threats, WhatsApp is labeling NSO Group’s actions as an attack. According to WhatsApp, NSO Group’s product was used in a way that outwardly exploited weaknesses in the app software. In the lawsuit, WhatsApp is asking for NSO Group to be permanently blocked from their app, as the so-called surveillance was arguably an attempt at hacking the system.  WhatsApp alleges that NSO Group is more closely connected to the purpose and use of their products than they claim.  NSO Group is accused of selling their products to agencies whose causes are of particular interest to the company.  While we are not ignorant to the fact that we are watched, it is unnerving to realize that malware created by a company like NSO Group can latch into your smartphone without a trace.