Indian Targeted Activists on Claims Answers Claims Caused by WhatsApp

13

NEW DELHI – Early last month,

Shalini Gera,

human rights activist and lawyer in India, who received a phone call from cyber security at the University of Toronto.

The caller said that her phone was likely to have a sophisticated focus and surveillance tool installed without her knowledge.

Facebook Inc.

WhatsApp messages service.

WhatsApp continued to announce that the NSO Group, an Israeli company that says it sells its software to governments, designed the tool that could be used to break its phone.

Ms Gera, a critic of some of India's government policies, said the incident had not escaped. “We are all looking for answers,” she said. “This is not the first time that people like us are focusing on raising issues with the administration and the state.”

Shalini Gera's lawyer and activist at the 2017 protest. She believes she was directed at a spying attack because of her activation.

Photo:

Ravi Choudhary / Hindustan / Getty Images times

NSO Group says that it sells its software to governments on the condition they use it to target spies, criminals and terrorists, without monitoring critics. National Israeli security regulations do not allow NSOs who are and are not a customer to disclose, an NSO Group spokesman said.

On Tuesday, Google invoked the NSO Group in California court to design and sell the software, named Pegasus, to use vulnerabilities on the messaging app to phone users with their own phones. NSO Group disputes Facebook allegations.

WhatsApp said that around 1,400 people around the world were targeted earlier this year during cyber-pulling fault on its software.

Targets have been promoted in the UK, India, South Africa, Belgium, France, Uganda and Morocco, said

John Scott-Railton,

researcher with Citizen Lab, Toronto University digital research group, who worked with WhatsApp to study Pegasus software.

According to WhatsApp, NSO engineers developed a sophisticated way to deliver cyber cables over the network of servers using WhatsApp to deliver voice calls. Even without replying to calls you could spyware the NSO to install the target phone, where it could intercept messages, capture screen screens or enter a browsing history, WhatsApp said.

Ms Gera, following discussions with Citizen Lab, believes that the malicious software was installed by calling WhatsApp with a country code in Sweden that she did not answer because she did not recognize the number.

“I am surprised if our own government was behind it,” said Chauhan's step-step activist, who worked alongside Ms Gera and was also informed that it had been targeted.

Indian officials refused to comment on whether the Government uses Pegasus or other similar software, and denied that the government had no role in improperly targeting citizens or critics.

“These efforts to prevent the Indian government from the reporting breach are completely misleading. We will take intense action against any intermediary responsible for overcoming privacy, ”said the Ministry of the Home.

The government of India blamed WhatsApp, which has its largest user base in India, where over 400 million users have downloaded the app.

WhatsApp has engaged with the Indian government, which wishes to access encrypted messages sent over WhatsApp. The US company has tried to weaken the encryption technology it uses.

“We asked WhatsApp to explain the violation and what he is doing to protect the privacy of millions of Indian citizens,” India's information technology minister,

Ravi Shankar Prasad,

said in a

Twitter

post Thursday. The role of the NSO Group was not mentioned in the government statements.

“Blaming WhatApp is a bold move rather than a NSO Group,” he said

Eva Galperin,

a cyber security director at Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US digital rights advocacy group.

WhatsApp blamed NSO Group for the attacks on its users. “We agree with the Indian government's strong statement about the need to protect the privacy of the user,” WhatsApp spokesman said. “That is why we have taken this strong action,” he said, in relation to litigation in the United States.

Citizen Lab said that more than 100 activists, human rights defenders and journalists focused on hacking tools the NSO Group in more than 20 countries this year.

WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption software, making it almost impossible for government agencies to adjust to private messages without access to the phone.

In addition, Facebook argues that the NSO Group has breached US law by verifying its messaging software, acting as an intermediate between clients requiring information and the targets of the attack.

By invoking an NSO Group, Facebook brought the Israeli tactics to the public's eye, Ms. said. Galperin.

Three years ago it was alleged that the NSO Group's tools were used in a sophisticated attack against activists in the United Arab Emirates, according to Citizen Lab and the mobile security company Lookout Inc..

This malware used a bug in

Apple Inc.

In iPhone, Citizen Lab said. Apple settled the vulnerability promptly, the company said at the time.

Prashant Bhushan,

An Indian activist and lawyer in New Delhi said he was looking for a detailed investigation of the phone hack.

“The Government should be clear about who ordered this breach and who was targeted,” he said.

Corrections & amplified
The target of the 2016 NSO Group's alleged assault was from the United Arab Emirates. An earlier version of this article introduced the country as Saudi Arabia. (2 November, 2019)

Write Robert McMillan at Robert.Mcmillan@wsj.com

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