Update right now! A vulnerability in WhatsApp lets attackers silently install spyware

EnlargeSanteri Viinamäki

WhatsApp told the BBC its security team was the first to identify the flaw, and shared that information with human rights groups, selected security vendors and the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month.

WhatsApp has recently corrected a serious vulnerability that allowed any attacker to install a spyware on the victim's smartphone (Android and iOS) without his knowledge.

"The company does not operate the system, and after a rigorous licensing and vetting process, intelligence and law enforcement determine how to use the technology to support their public safety missions". It also said it had briefed human rights organisations to work with them to notify civil society.

The Facebook-owned messaging service said it believed certain users were targeted through the vulnerability by an advanced cyber actor.

Several human rights lawyers and campaigners were targeted by the spyware, known as Pegasus. NSO Group, an Israeli cyber arms firm behind the development of spyware Pegasus, is known for selling such commercial spyware to governments and intelligence agencies.

It is unclear as to how long this exploit was known by hackers and how many people were affected by it. WhatsApp, however, says that it expects only a limited number of users to be affected by it since carrying out the hack is relatively hard and requires motivated hackers and actions. So if you see an update is available for WhatsApp, it is highly recommended that you install it on all of your devices. NSO would not, or could not, use its technology in its own right to target any person or organisation, including this individual. Following the Monday announcement, Amnesty International said it would join the effort to force Israel's defense ministry to suspend NSO's export license.

WhatsApp claims it has worked "around the clock" to develop a patch to protect users from the exploit, finally releasing the fix on Monday.

Experts said the case highlighted the ability of sophisticated attackers to exploit gaps in code to view messages on a target's phone even if those messages were safely encrypted in transit.

If you have an iPhone, go to the App Store and click updates.

Under My apps and games, tap update next to WhatsApp Messenger. The lawyer, who was not identified by name, is involved in a lawsuit against NSO brought by a group of Mexican journalists, government critics and a Saudi Arabian dissident.



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