Technology giant Facebook announced Tuesday that it was suing Israeli online surveillance firm NSO Group over the alleged hacking of users of its popular WhatsApp messaging service between April and May this year.
In a 15-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, a copy of which was published by The Washington Post, Facebook outlined hack attacks on more than 100 rights activists, journalists, government officials, diplomats and political dissidents.
According to Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, NSO Group used a flaw in the messaging app to hijack phones and send malware to the mobile devices of a number of users that would allow its clients to covertly spy on the owners of the devices.
“This should serve as a wake-up call for technology companies, governments and all Internet users,” Cathcart wrote in The Washington Post.
“Tools that enable surveillance into our private lives are being abused, and the proliferation of this technology into the hands of irresponsible companies and governments puts us all at risk.”
Cathcart said the Tel Aviv-based tech company was “highly sophisticated” in carrying out the alleged hacks and interceptions, but investigators had managed to trace their work and “their attempts to cover their tracks were not entirely successful.”
“Democracies depend on strong independent journalism and civil society, and intentionally weakening security puts these institutions at risk,” said Cathcart.
“And we all want to protect our personal information and private conversations. That’s why we will continue to oppose calls from governments to weaken end-to-end encryption.”
Claims that NSO had used WhatsApp to hijack phones caused a global outcry and widespread condemnation from online privacy groups when they were revealed in May. At the time, NSO said it would investigate the matter.
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