India’s Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is asking the Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp for the details of the hack that compromised the smartphones of journalists, human rights activists and others, Reuters reported on Thursday (Oct. 31).
“We have asked WhatsApp to explain the kind of breach and what it is doing to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens,” Prasad said in a tweet.
Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto said in a website post on Tuesday (Oct. 29) that it was helping WhatsApp investigate the incident.
“As part of our investigation into the incident, Citizen Lab has identified over 100 cases of abusive targeting of human rights defenders and journalists in at least 20 countries across the globe, ranging from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America that took place after Novalpina Capital acquired NSO Group and began an ongoing public relations campaign to promote the narrative that the new ownership would curb abuses,” the post indicated.
Last year, regulators in India told the company it suspected the messaging platform was being used to spread misinformation. It asked WhatsApp to find out where the messages were originating.
“Indian journalists and human rights activists have been the target of surveillance, and while I cannot reveal their identities and the exact number, I can say that it is not an insignificant number,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told Indian Express.
The breach comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by WhatsApp on Tuesday (Oct. 29) in San Francisco alleging that the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group targeted some 1,400 WhatsApp users with Pegasus. In the lawsuit, WhatsApp accuses the NSO Group and Q Cyber Technologies of violating U.S. and California laws as well as WhatsApp’s terms of service.
“We believe this attack targeted at least 100 members of civil society, which is an unmistakable pattern of abuse. This number may grow higher as more victims come forward,” the lawsuit said.