WhatsApp issues fix after spyware breach

WhatsApp is urging its users to update their apps after the company worked to fix a vulnerability that was reportedly exploited to target a human rights lawyer in the United Kingdom.

“WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement. “We are constantly working alongside industry partners to provide the latest security enhancements to help protect our users.”

Back story: The Financial Times reported on Monday night that software developed by the Israeli private intelligence firm NSO Group could be used to compromise phones simply by calling them through the app, even if the recipient didn’t answer.

According to the Times, the exploit had been used to target an unnamed human rights lawyer in the U.K. representing dissidents from Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

NSA responds: An NSO spokesperson said that it would investigate any misuse of its software, which has been used by governments like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico.

“NSO’s technology is licensed to authorized government agencies for the sole purpose of fighting crime and terror. The company does not operate the system, and after a rigorous licensing and vetting process, intelligence and law enforcement determine how to use the technology to support their public safety missions. We investigate any credible allegations of misuse and if necessary, we take action, including shutting down the system.”

What’s next?: WhatsApp has fixed the vulnerability and is urging its 1.5 billion users to keep their apps and their mobile operating systems updated.

The company believes a select group of users were targeted with the exploit and is briefing human rights organizations about the vulnerability, according to a person familiar with the matter. WhatsApp has also notified law enforcement in the U.S., the person said.

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