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Here is Everything You Need To Know About WhatsApp's Tussle With Israeli Surveillance Firm NSO According to WhatsApp, NSO was involved in the cyber attack on WhatsApp's video calling service using which they send malware to users

By Shreya Ganguly

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Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp has filed a case against Israel-based surveillance firm NSO Group in the federal court, accusing them of allegedly violating both U.S. and California laws along with the company's terms of services. According to the company, the firm was involved in the cyberattack on WhatsApp's video calling service. The attackers had sent malware to the cellphones of as many as 1,400 users.

"WhatsApp has also filed a complaint in U.S. court that attributes the attack to a spyware company called NSO Group and its parent company Q Cyber Technologies. The complaint alleges they violated both U.S. and California laws as well as the WhatsApp Terms of Service, which prohibits this type of abuse," said WhatsApp spokesperson. WhatsApp has complained about this and explained how NSO carried out this attack and is seeking a permanent injunction banning NSO from using this service. However, NSO has denied the allegations.

"In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today's allegations and will vigorously fight them. The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years," NSO group said in a statement.

What Is The Case All About?

According to the social media company, the company came across the cyber attack in May this year its video calling feature was being compromised to send malware to users. According to media reports, through this attack, NSO helped the government spies get access to the phones of 1,400 users across four continents. The targets were mainly diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.

The report further added that the malware sent into the devices will allow NSO's clients to get access to the users mobile and their digital data.

"We are working with research experts at the Citizen Lab, we believe this attack targeted at least 100 members of civil society, which is an unmistakable pattern of abuse. This number may grow higher as more victims come forward," the company said in a statement."

According to the company, "this attack was developed to access messages after they were decrypted on an infected device, abusing in-app vulnerabilities and the operating systems that power our mobile phones."

Disputing the claims, NSO Group said that any other use of its products than to prevent serious crime and terrorism a misuse is contractually prohibited. "We take action if we detect any misuse. This technology is rooted in the protection of human rights – including the right to life, security and bodily integrity – and that's why we have sought alignment with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to make sure our products are respecting all fundamental human rights," the statement said.

WhatsApp's Tussle In India

While now the social media company has locked horns with Israel's NSO Group, the company has also been on shaky grounds in India for spread of misinformation and launch of WhatsApp Pay.

Following the brutal murders termed as "unfortunate killings," last year due to the spread of false information about the kidnapping on WhatsApp brought the social media company under the scrutiny of the central government.

The Indian government has been since then asking WhatsApp to find a solution to trace the origin of the fake messages. The company, however, refused to comply with the request stating that this would require them to break its end-to-end encryption services which can compromise user privacy.

In response, IIT Madras professor V Kamakoti, who serves on the board of National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) proposed ways to ensure traceability without breaking encryption. According to Prof Kamakoti, WhatsApp can embed information about the originator of a text along with the encrypted message. Such information will be encrypted but can be shown to law enforcement if the situation demanded.

According to a report by MediaNama, Dr Manoj Prabhakaran, computer science professor at IIT Bombay said that Kamakoti's proposal might affect users' privacy. Prabhakaran who submitted his analysis on behalf of Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) to the Madras High Court belives that traceability might not be an effective tool to combat fake news. He highlighted that one may hire several thousand people to serve as originators of content, thus the main brain behind this might remain untraceable.

Shreya Ganguly

Former Features Writer

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