Israeli firm behind WhatsApp hack faces lawsuit from Amnesty

Secretive Israeli firm behind WhatsApp spyware hack is sued by Amnesty International over ‘surveillance of its staff’

  • Amnesty International have filed a lawsuit in Israel following the WhatsApp hack
  • Amnesty have accused NSO of not giving due diligence in selling their product
  • This week WhatsApp said NSO’s spyware software was used in a security breach
  • WhatsApp said the attack may have been launched against human rights groups

Amnesty International have filed a lawsuit in an Israeli court following the WhatsApp security breach earlier this week, accusing intelligence firm NSO Group of failing to show due diligence in the export of their spyware software

Amnesty International have filed a lawsuit in Israel which says its staff may be under surveillance since the WhatsApp hacking scandal. 

Amnesty are also petitioning the Israeli government for revocation of the NSO Group’s export license – the cyber intelligence firm whose software WhatsApp said was behind the breach.

Facebook-owned messenger app, WhatsApp, said on Tuesday the security breach may have targeted human rights groups and that the sophisticated spyware deployed – known as Pegasus – was developed by NSO.

Amnesty’s affidavit at the Israeli court said: ‘Staff of Amnesty International have an ongoing and well-founded fear they may continue to be targeted and ultimately surveilled.’

British investor and philanthropist Stephen Peel, whose company Novalpina owns a controlling stake in NSO, co-singed a letter to Amnesty on Wednesday.

NSO Group’s offices in Herzliya, Israel – they are accused of allowing their spyware to fall into the wrong hands

Novalpina, in their letter said it was ‘determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure that NSO technology is used for the purpose for which it is intended the prevention of harm to fundamental human rights arising from terrorism and serious crime and not abused in a manner that undermines other equally fundamental human rights’.

NSO say they only sell their technology to law enforcement and intelligence agencies pursuing legitimate targets, such as terrorists and criminals. 

Amnesty said in an emailed statement this week that NSO has ‘again and again demonstrated their intent to avoid responsibility for the way their software is used,’ and that only government intervention would change that.

NSO has not commented on any specific attacks, but following the WhatsApp breach it said it would investigate any ‘credible allegations of misuse’ of its technology which ‘is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies’.

Novalpina said it intends to bring NSO’s governance into alignment with United Nations principles and will seek insights from Amnesty and other groups ‘into how best to achieve this important goal.’

Israel’s Ministry of Defence declined to comment this week on Amnesty’s petition against NSO’s export licence. 

WhatsApp said a vulnerability in the popular communications app let mobile phones be infected with sophisticated spyware

WhatsApp, one of the world’s most popular messaging tools which is used by 1.5 billion people monthly, said it had notified the U.S. Department of Justice to help with an investigation into the breach and encouraged its users to update to the latest version of the app, where the breach had been fixed.

One target of the new WhatsApp exploit was a United Kingdom-based human rights lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

The lawyer is helping a Saudi dissident and several Mexican journalists mount civil cases against NSO for its alleged role in selling hacking tools to the Saudi and Mexican governments, which they allege were used to hack into their phones. 

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