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Paul Merrell

Lessons (So Far) From WhatsApp v. NSO - Lawfare - 0 views

  • NSO Group, an Israeli vendor of “lawful” hacking tools designed to infect a target’s phone with spyware, is regarded by many as a bad actor. The group claims to be shocked when its products are misused, as they have been in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. One incident might be excusable, but the group’s continued enabling of misbehavior has resulted in well-earned enmity. Recently, Facebook struck back. NSO Group deployed a weaponized exploit for Facebook’s WhatsApp messenger, integrated it into its Pegasus malcode system, and offered it to its customers (a mix of legitimate government agencies and nefarious government actors) interested in hacking WhatsApp users beginning in April. This was a particularly powerful exploit because it required no user interaction and the only sign of the exploit a user might discover would be a series of “missed calls” received on the user’s phone. Facebook patched the vulnerability on May 13, blocking the NSO campaign. Facebook wasn’t satisfied with simply closing the vulnerability. In cooperation with CitizenLab, Facebook identified more than 100 incidents in which NSO Group’s WhatsApp exploit appeared to target human rights activists and journalists. In total, Facebook and CitizenLab identified 1,400 targets (which apparently also included government officials in U.S. allied governments). They then filed a federal lawsuit against NSO Group, closed NSO Group member accounts, and, most damaging of all to NSO’s customers, sent a notice to all identified victims alerting them of the attack. This meant that all targets, both dissidents and drug lords alike, were notified of this surveillance. The lawsuit will be a case to watch. Facebook has already revealed a large amount of detail concerning NSO Group’s internal workings, including the hands-on nature of its business model: NSO Group actively assists countries in hacking targets. For example, we now know that while an NSO Group employee may not press the “Enter” key for a target, NSO employees do act to advise and consult on targeting; and NSO Group is largely responsible for running the infrastructure used to exploit targets and manage implants. Expect more revelations like this as the case proceeds.
Paul Merrell

WhatsApp sues Israel's NSO for allegedly helping spies hack phones around the world - R... - 0 views

  • WhatsApp sued Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group on Tuesday, accusing it of helping government spies break into the phones of roughly 1,400 users across four continents in a hacking spree whose targets included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.
  • In a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco, messaging service WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook Inc (FB.O), accused NSO of facilitating government hacking sprees in 20 countries. Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were the only countries identified. WhatsApp said in a statement that 100 civil society members had been targeted, and called it “an unmistakable pattern of abuse.” NSO denied the allegations.
  • Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity research laboratory based at the University of Toronto that worked with WhatsApp to investigate the phone hacking, told Reuters that the targets included well-known television personalities, prominent women who had been subjected to online hate campaigns and people who had faced “assassination attempts and threats of violence.”
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  • NSO came under particularly harsh scrutiny over the allegation that its spyware played a role in the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul a little over a year ago. Khashoggi’s friend Omar Abdulaziz is one of seven activists and journalists who have taken the spyware firm to court in Israel and Cyprus over allegations that their phones were compromised using NSO technology. Amnesty has also filed a lawsuit, demanding that the Israeli Ministry of Defense revoke NSO’s export license to “stop it profiting from state-sponsored repression.”
Paul Merrell

Forget Apple vs. the FBI: WhatsApp Just Switched on Encryption for a Billion People | W... - 0 views

  • For most of the past six weeks, the biggest story out of Silicon Valley was Apple’s battle with the FBI over a federal order to unlock the iPhone of a mass shooter. The company’s refusal touched off a searing debate over privacy and security in the digital age. But this morning, at a small office in Mountain View, California, three guys made the scope of that enormous debate look kinda small. Mountain View is home to WhatsApp, an online messaging service now owned by tech giant Facebook, that has grown into one of the world’s most important applications. More than a billion people trade messages, make phone calls, send photos, and swap videos using the service. This means that only Facebook itself runs a larger self-contained communications network. And today, the enigmatic founders of WhatsApp, Brian Acton and Jan Koum, together with a high-minded coder and cryptographer who goes by the pseudonym Moxie Marlinspike, revealed that the company has added end-to-end encryption to every form of communication on its service.
  • This means that if any group of people uses the latest version of WhatsApp—whether that group spans two people or ten—the service will encrypt all messages, phone calls, photos, and videos moving among them. And that’s true on any phone that runs the app, from iPhones to Android phones to Windows phones to old school Nokia flip phones. With end-to-end encryption in place, not even WhatsApp’s employees can read the data that’s sent across its network. In other words, WhatsApp has no way of complying with a court order demanding access to the content of any message, phone call, photo, or video traveling through its service. Like Apple, WhatsApp is, in practice, stonewalling the federal government, but it’s doing so on a larger front—one that spans roughly a billion devices.
  • The FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment for this story. But many inside the government and out are sure to take issue with the company’s move. In late 2014, WhatsApp encrypted a portion of its network. In the months since, its service has apparently been used to facilitate criminal acts, including the terrorist attacks on Paris last year. According to The New York Times, as recently as this month, the Justice Department was considering a court case against the company after a wiretap order (still under seal) ran into WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption. “The government doesn’t want to stop encryption,” says Joseph DeMarco, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in cybercrime and has represented various law enforcement agencies backing the Justice Department and the FBI in their battle with Apple. “But the question is: what do you do when a company creates an encryption system that makes it impossible for court-authorized search warrants to be executed? What is the reasonable level of assistance you should ask from that company?”
Paul Merrell

WhatsApp Encryption Said to Stymie Wiretap Order - The New York Times - 0 views

  • While the Justice Department wages a public fight with Apple over access to a locked iPhone, government officials are privately debating how to resolve a prolonged standoff with another technology company, WhatsApp, over access to its popular instant messaging application, officials and others involved in the case said. No decision has been made, but a court fight with WhatsApp, the world’s largest mobile messaging service, would open a new front in the Obama administration’s dispute with Silicon Valley over encryption, security and privacy.WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, allows customers to send messages and make phone calls over the Internet. In the last year, the company has been adding encryption to those conversations, making it impossible for the Justice Department to read or eavesdrop, even with a judge’s wiretap order.
  • As recently as this past week, officials said, the Justice Department was discussing how to proceed in a continuing criminal investigation in which a federal judge had approved a wiretap, but investigators were stymied by WhatsApp’s encryption.The Justice Department and WhatsApp declined to comment. The government officials and others who discussed the dispute did so on condition of anonymity because the wiretap order and all the information associated with it were under seal. The nature of the case was not clear, except that officials said it was not a terrorism investigation. The location of the investigation was also unclear.
  • To understand the battle lines, consider this imperfect analogy from the predigital world: If the Apple dispute is akin to whether the F.B.I. can unlock your front door and search your house, the issue with WhatsApp is whether it can listen to your phone calls. In the era of encryption, neither question has a clear answer.Some investigators view the WhatsApp issue as even more significant than the one over locked phones because it goes to the heart of the future of wiretapping. They say the Justice Department should ask a judge to force WhatsApp to help the government get information that has been encrypted. Others are reluctant to escalate the dispute, particularly with senators saying they will soon introduce legislation to help the government get data in a format it can read.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

¿Por qué ha pagado Facebook 19.000 millones por WhatsApp? - 0 views

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    "Esta es la gran pregunta que muchos se hacen en estos momentos. Desde los que defienden la existencia de una nueva burbuja puntocom hasta los que creen que estamos ante una ganga, todos se preguntan por qué Facebook ha pagado tal cantidad de dinero por WhatsApp. Y la respuesta, por mal que nos pese, solo la tienen Mark Zuckerberg, su consejo de administración y el resto del equipo directivo."
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