Trying to preserve the integrity of its platforms, Facebook is suing Israeli mobile surveillance firm NSO Group for allegedly hacking WhatsApp earlier this year.
Specifically, the tech giant is accusing NSO of installing malware on the phones of approximately 1,400 WhatsApp users, at least of 100 of whom are civically prominent figures, including human rights leaders, journalists, government officials, diplomats.
“This should serve as a wake-up call for technology companies, governments and all Internet users,” WhatsApp’s head Will Cathcart writes in a new op-ed in The Washington Post.
“Tools that enable surveillance into our private lives are being abused, and the proliferation of this technology into the hands of irresponsible companies and governments puts us all at risk,” Cathcart warns.
Facebook publicly acknowledge the attempted cyberattack in May, noting that it involved a vulnerability in WhatApp’s video-calling feature.
In the new complaint filed in a federal court, Facebook claims that the malware failed to crack WhatsApp’s encryption technology, although it was still able to infect users’ phones. That therefore made it possible for NSO to access messages once they were decrypted by recipients.
Beyond WhatsApp, the lawsuit alleges that NSO used its malware to access messages on other messaging platforms, including Facebook Messenger, Microsoft’s Skype, and Apple’s iMessage.
To date, NSO has denied any involvement in the attack.
“NSO’s technology is licensed to authorised government agencies for the sole purpose of fighting crime and terror,” the firm asserted in a statement released earlier this year. “NSO would not or could not use its technology in its own right to target any person or organisation.”
NSO did not return requests for additional comment on Wednesday.
Facebook is seeking to hold NSO accountable under U.S. state and federal laws, including the US. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
In addition, Cathcart is calling on other tech firms to join U.N. Special Rapporteur David Kaye’s recent calls for a moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of spyware.
Moreover, Cathcart believes that more needs to be done to secure consumers’ smartphones, which he asserts have become the “primary computer for billions of people around the world.”
As such, Cathcart calls on governments and companies to do more to protect consumers and their mobile devices.