A security vulnerability in WhatsApp allowed hackers to deploy surveillance spyware on iPhones and Android devices.
WhatsApp has identified an “advanced security flaw” in its messaging service that allowed hackers to install spyware onto phones, the Facebook-owned company confirmed Monday, as it urged its 1.5 billion users to update the latest app version.
According to a new report from the Financial Times, the company says that the attack, which was first spotted earlier this month, affected a “select” group of and is the result of action from “an advanced cyber actor.” The spyware was reportedly developed by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group.
The spyware has the ability to give hackers full access to a phone remotely, allowing them to read messages, see contacts, and activate the camera. The attack involved cyber hackers using WhatsApp’s voice calling function to call a device. The surveillance software would then be installed, even if the call was not picked up. Additionally, the victim would not be able to find out about the intrusion afterward as the spyware erases.the incoming call information from the logs.
Though the exact number of targeted WhatsApp users is not yet known, WhatsApp engineers did confirm that only a “select number” of users were targeted by the spyware using this vulnerability.
WhatsApp said that the vulnerability was discovered earlier this month and that the company quickly addressed the problem within its own infrastructure. An update to the app was published Monday, and the company is encouraging users to upgrade.
NSO Group said it was investigating the breach and denied that it would target individuals or companies using its technology, “which is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the group explains.
While WhatsApp did not confirm the Financial Times‘ report that NSO Group’s code was used in the breach, but said in a statement: “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.”