High-level government officials around the world especially in high national security positions who are ‘US allies’ became targets of governments using Pegasus, the spyware from Israeli NSO Group in 2019. The WhatsApp CEO said that 1,400 such individuals were targeted in the year, reported UK daily The Guardian.
WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart shared the details of the attack on such individuals this week after the Pegasus Project exposed the widespread breach of many individuals’ privacy by governments that are clients of the NSO Group.
Pegasus Project is a consortium of 17 media organisations that investigated NSO Group which sells sophisticated surveillance software to governments around the globe.
Cathcart compared the attack on WhatsApp users in 2019 and reports of massive data leaks reported by the investigation by Pegasus Project. The messaging platform had earlier filed a lawsuit against NSO owing to the targeting of its users using the software produced by the latter.
The WhatsApp CEO claimed that NSO was playing down the incidence, adding that the messaging company recorded an attack against 1,400 of its users in a period spanning two weeks in 2019, as per the report.
“This should be a wake-up call for security on the internet mobile phones are either safe for everyone or they are not safe for everyone,” Cathcart said.
“That tells us that over a longer period of time, over a multi-year period of time, the numbers of people being attacked are very high,” the WhatsApp CEO further said, “That’s why we felt it was so important to raise the concern around this.”
The report said that WhatsApp’s claim that 1,400 individuals were “targeted” means that the NSO server tried to install the spyware on users’ devices.
Out of those targeted 100 were journalists and human rights activists said WhatsApp. They were compromised using a vulnerability in WhatsApp which was later fixed, the company claimed.
Cathcart said that he had discussed in the paper the 2019 attack with governments around the world. He lauded Microsoft and other tech players for highlighting the issue and called upon Apple to fix its vulnerabilities with respect to malware.
“I hope that Apple will start taking that approach too. Be loud, join in. It’s not enough to say, most of our users don’t need to worry about this. It’s not enough to say ‘oh this is only thousands or tens of thousands of victims’,” the WhatsApp CEO added.