(Reuters) — 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.
WhatsApp said in a statement that 100 civil society members had been targeted and called it “an unmistakable pattern of abuse.”
WhatsApp is used by some 1.5 billion people monthly and has often touted a high level of security, including end-to-end encrypted messages that cannot be deciphered by WhatsApp or other third parties.
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.”
Neither Citizen Lab nor WhatsApp identified the targets by name.
Governments have increasingly turned to sophisticated hacking software as officials seek to push their surveillance power into the furthest corners of their citizens’ digital lives.