With promises of privacy, WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps across the world. Over 1.5 billion people actively use the app, largely relying on the fact that all their messages are encrypted.
However, earlier this week, reports emerged that the Facebook-owned app was targeted by spyware created by an Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group.
We’ve all heard the advice multiple times - don’t click on suspicious links, texts or emails. But this time around, the secretive Israeli tech company designed a Whatsapp spyware that could inject malware onto phones, enabling them to access photos, messages and emails - with just a phone call.
The targets needn’t pick up the calls to permit the malware and the calls did not leave any records on the target’s phone logs. Within minutes, the spyware will transmit all encrypted content, specifics about the user’s location, even turning on their microphone and camera.
NSO has even managed to manoeuvre around Apple’s robust privacy, with its advertising campaigns pitching its devices to be impenetrable.
NSO Group, however, declined the allegations emphasizing that it does not use the hacking tools. The company claimed that the tools were operated only by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
“NSO’s technology is licensed to authorized government agencies for the sole purpose of fighting crime and terror. We investigate any credible allegations of misuse and if necessary, we take action, including shutting down the system,” NSO Group said in a statement.
Have you been affected?
The number of people attacked by the spyware is not yet known but a few human rights organizations including Amnesty International, have been identified.
If you haven’t received any voice calls over Whatsapp from unknown numbers, chances are you might not have been targeted. While most security flaws are fixed by the company, you’re only protected if you have updated the most recent software fix.
Facebook implemented a new update for the messaging app and the company has been urging users to download the latest version for increased security. If the update is not complete, uninstalling the app will protect you from malware.
At a time when there’s an increase in data breaches, privacy issues and continued surveillance, a decentralized solution that provides higher security standards might be the right direction, given today’s data-sensitive environment.