Historical case : Facebook Filed a Lawsuit Against NSO Group for Hacking WhatsApp

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Facebook lawsuit against Israel based commercial spyware maker NSO group for hacking its WhatsApp messenger by exploiting the zero-day vulnerability and deploy the Pegasus spyware on the targeted user’s device.

Facebook claims that the electronic surveillance company stole information from 1,400 users of its WhatsApp messaging service.

Facebook messaging service WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in a California federal court against Israeli electronic surveillance company NSO Group, alleging computer fraud, that it breached WhatsApp’s computer systems, and “wrongfully trespassed” on Facebook property.

The lawsuit claims that NSO Group tried to infect roughly 1,400 “target devices” with malicious software to steal valuable information from human rights activists, journalists and others using the messaging app.

The lawsuit added that NSO’s Pegasus software was designed to be remotely installed to hack devices using the Android, iOS, and BlackBerry operating systems.

The suit claims that NSO has “reverse-engineered the WhatsApp app and developed a program to enable them to emulate legitimate WhatsApp network traffic in order to transmit malicious code” in order to hijack the devices.

Once Pegasus is installed, it begins contacting the operator’s C&C servers to receive and execute operators’ commands, and send back the target’s private data, including passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages, and live voice calls from popular mobile messaging apps.

The vulnerability can be tracked as CVE-2019-3568. Which is resides in “WhatsApp VOIP stack allowed remote code execution via a specially crafted series of SRTCP packets sent to a target phone number?

In May 2019, WhatsApp experienced a sophisticated cyber attack that exploited the WhatsApp video call system, as a result, 1,400 WhatsApp users believe to be impacted.

WhatsApp detected and blocked the attack soon after learned this incident, after a few months of investigation, now Facebook filed a lawsuit in U.S district count in northern direct of California.

NSO group also known as Q cyber technologies, an Israel based company claims that they develop and sell its spyware only government and law enforcement agencies for tracking criminals and terrorists, but it alleged that their technology also used to target the individual users around the world.

The lawsuit filed by Facebook said that the NSO group violated both U.S. and California laws as well as the WhatsApp Terms & conditions and misuse the WhatsApp server and WhatsApp services to deploy the spyware component in targeted users device by exploiting the Video called feature vulnerability.

NSO group denied this allegation and said “Under no circumstances would NSO be involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology, which is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. NSO would not or could not use its technology in its own right to target any person or organization”

But Facebook claims in the lawsuit learned that the attackers used servers and Internet-hosting services to compromise the targeted WhatsApp account were previously associated with NSO Group

Following factual allegation filed by Facebook against NSO Group in a lawsuit:

  • NSO group agreed to the WhatsApp terms
  • NSO group accessed and used WhatsApp’ servers without authorization and infected target users’ devices with malware 
  • NSO group set up computer infrastructure used to infect the target Devices 
  • NSO group unauthorized access of WhatsApp’ servers 
  • NSO group unlawful acts have caused damage and loss to WhatsApp and Facebook. 

According to WhatsApp “This is the first time that an encrypted messaging provider is taking legal action against a private entity that has carried out this type of attack against its users. In our complaint, we explain how NSO carried out this attack, including acknowledgment from an NSO employee that our steps to remediate the attack were effective. ”

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