Early this week, Facebook sued Israeli-based spyware maker NSO Group. WhatsApp took the surveillance contractor to court blaming them for the silent call exploit. Hackers broke the popular messaging app with just a phone call that compromised it and the user didn’t even need to pick up the phone.
This exploit was used to target only a small number of high-profile activists and political dissidents. On Tuesday, WhatsApp published a statement accusing NSO Group of targetting 1,400 of its users with malicious voice calls designed to infect targeted phones with malware and steal messages despite the apps end-to-end encryption. This case ould mark a turning point in tech giants fight against private-sector espionage mercenaries.
WhatsApp head Will Cathcart posted an op-ed for the Washington Post after filing the sit that said they ““learned that the attackers used servers and Internet-hosting services that were previously associated” with NSO Group.
NSO Group said in a statement after that “In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them.”
A day after the suit was filed, Facebook, the parent company of WhatsApp has begun deleting the accounts of NSO Group employees.
“Your account has been deleted for not following our terms. You won’t be able to log into this account, and no one else will be able to see it. We’re unable to restore accounts that are deleted for these types of violations,” reads a message sent to one employee by Instagram which is also owned by Facebook.
The deletion is widespread according to a message board in Israel. Here’s another LinkedIn post by NSO’s global intelligence services and training manager Guy Brenner. Facebook is reportedly deleting Facebook and Instagram accounts. Apparently its a small number of NSO Group employees and WhatsApp accounts haven’t been involved.
According to The Register, there’s a passage in WhatsApp’s court paperwork that sought to permanently bar NSO Group, as well as its agents and employees, from ever again “accessing or attempting to access WhatsApp’s and Facebook’s service, platform, and computer systems.”
Facebook has said that people whose accounts have been deleted can appeal this move to get back their accounts.
We’ll keep you posted on this story with new updates.