Hackers were able to exploit the vulnerability in WhatsApp as they installed spyware on “a select number of users.”
WhatsApp rolled out a security fix over concerns hackers were able to inject surveillance software on to phones via the call function using a malicious code. Hackers could target iPhones and Android by ringing the target phone.
Even if a user did not answer the call the code could still be transmitted, the Financial Times (FT) reported.
Concerns have been raised that attempts were made to target the phones of a UK lawyer and human rights campaigners.
WhatsApp who is owned by Facebook said the attack bores a resemblance to spyware developed for intelligence agencies.
WhatsApp told the FT, “We believe a select number of users were targeted through this vulnerability by an advanced cyber actor,” WhatsApp told the FT.
“This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company known to work with governments to deliver spyware that reportedly takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems.
“We have briefed a number of human rights organisations to share the information we can, and to work with them to notify civil society.”
Citizen Lab a research group at the university of Toronto are investigating the attacks.
They said, “We believe an attacker tried [and was blocked by WhatsApp]to exploit it as recently as yesterday to target a human rights lawyer.
According to the FT the spyware was developed by the NSO Group who are an Israeli cyber-security and intelligence firm.
NSO Group told the FT, “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 organisation, including this individual [the UK lawyer].”
Amnesty International are demanding the Israeli Ministry of Defence revoke NSO Group export licence, they are also backing legal action the Israeli MoD.
Danna Ingleton, deputy director of Amnesty Tech said, “NSO Group sells its products to governments who are known for outrageous human rights abuses, giving them the tools to track activists and critics.”