The NSO Group has denied that its spyware was used to compromise the phones of many politicians, but WhatsApp tells a different story. Will Cathcart, the CEO of the chat giant, told The Guardian in an interview that governments allegedly used NSO’s Pegasus software to attack senior government officials around the world in 2019.
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The attack include high-ranking national security officials who were US allies. According to reports, the breaches were part of a larger campaign that compromised 1,400 WhatsApp users in two weeks, prompting a lawsuit.
Cathcart stated that the NSO reporting “matches” with findings from the WhatsApp attack in 2019. Human rights activists and journalists were thought to be victims as well.
The executive was responding to claims that governments used Pegasus to hack into the phones of 37 people, including women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Those targets were also on a 2016 list of over 50,000 phone numbers that included activists, journalists, and politicians, though it is unclear whether anyone other than the 37 was targeted.
NSO has categorically denied the hacks and the list, claiming that there is “no factual basis” for the claims and that the list is far too large to be focused solely on potential Pegasus targets.
It also directly confronted Cathcart, asking if the WhatsApp executive had “other alternatives” to its tools for thwarting “pedophiles, terrorists, and criminals” using encrypted software.
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Cathcart, on the other hand, was skeptical of that explanation, pointing to the 1,400 people as evidence that the number of targets was “very high.” Whatever the truth is, it’s safe to say WhatsApp will not back down from its lawsuit (or a public spat) anytime soon.