Israeli spyware company NSO Group has allegedly targeted the mobile phones of at least two dozen Pakistani government officials, The Guardian reported on Thursday 19th December.
According to the publication, scores of Pakistani senior defence and intelligence officials were among those who could have been compromised. The alleged targeting was discovered during an analysis of 1,400 people whose phones were the focus of hacking attempts in a two-week period earlier this year.
All the suspected intrusions exploited a vulnerability in WhatsApp software that potentially allowed the users of the malware to access messages and data on the targets’ phones.
WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against NSO in October in which it accused the company of “unauthorised access and abuse” of its services. The lawsuit claimed intended targets included “attorneys, journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats, and other senior foreign government officials”. Whatsapp lodged the lawsuit after the discovery of the breach in May.
NSO however, is contesting the claim and emphasising that its technology is only used by law enforcement agencies around the world to snare criminals, terrorists and paedophiles.
The alleged targeting of Pakistani officials gives a first insight into how NSO’s signature “Pegasus” spyware could have been used for “state-on-state” espionage.
In the meantime, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is also facing questions from human rights activists about whether it has bought NSO technology. Reports earlier suggested that 121 WhatsApp users in India were allegedly targeted including journalists, activists and human rights lawyers. This had prompted the Indian National Congress to seek a supreme court inquiry into the matter.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Indian technology minister, said in a tweet on 31 October after news of the alleged Indian victims emerged that India was “concerned at the breach of privacy” on WhatsApp. The Indian ministry of home affairs said that “no information” existed about the government ever ordering Pegasus, according to local reports.